Alive in the Moment

—Naomi Baltuck

It was only last summer, but it seems a lifetime ago that we visited Iceland…

…a country very different from ours, but one of stark beauty.

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A land of fire…

(Photo from Eldheimer Museum, Westman Islands.)

…and ice.

History…

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Culture…

…and wit.

My mom used to say, “You can find something in common with everyone you meet, even if it’s only that your feet hurt.”  

A global pandemic should qualify.

At the Adalstraeti Museum, we saw old photographs of the inhabitants of Reykjavik.

An interpretive sign read, “Women in traditional costumes, boys from the Reykjavik Football Club…a professor in a coat with an opulent fur collar, several generations of a family, parents with their firstborn, Little Miss Reykjavik, a girl with a lamb, a boy in a sailor suit. It’s tempting to speculate on where they might have gone after the photographs were taken. Home to Lindargarta, or for a coffee at Hotel Island? Down to the shore to watch the lumpfish catch being landed? Or back to work after returning borrowed clothes?

All the portraits in this exhibition were taken in the first nine months of 1918…Some of the people we see in these pictures may well have perished in the epidemic: all will have lost friends or relatives. The only thing we can know for sure about these past inhabitants of Reykjavik is that in the instant the shutter opened, they were there—facing the camera—alive in the moment.”

On October 19, 1918, the Spanish flu hit Iceland like a tsunami when three infected ships made port in Reykjavik.  The first death followed twelve days later.  Ten thousand people, two thirds of Iceland’s capital city, fell ill.  The hospitals were overwhelmed.  A field hospital was set up to accommodate the overflow, and a center was created to care for children orphaned by the pandemic.  Shops closed, newspapers went dark, and when telephone operators took ill, Iceland lost contact with the outside world.

While the West and South of Iceland suffered, guards were posted to prevent travel from infected areas. They contained the spread, sparing the North and the East of the island. After a month, the infection peaked, and the dead were buried in mass graves.

The exhibit commemorated the centennial of the 1918 pandemic and celebrated the Icelanders’ laudable response. Many donated funds to feed the sick. Others brought meals to friends and strangers. Everyone in Reykjavik was assigned an official to check on them and procure help, if needed.

We were there in the summer of 2019, never suspecting that the exhibit foreshadowed the novel coronavirus that would strike the following winter, and rapidly intensify into a global pandemic. We still languish in the first wave of CoVid-19, recalling with apprehension that the Spanish flu came in four waves, infected 500 million people, and left 50 million dead.

An older story harkens back to The Black Death, that raged across Asia and Europe in the 14th century, spread by sailors and rats along trade routes.  Within five years, it too had killed 50 million people.

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At that time, an Icelandic merchant ship was preparing to sail homeward from Bergen, Norway, hoping to outrun the plague.  But before they could weigh anchor, several crew members developed symptoms.  All their instincts must have cried out for home…

…but the crew elected to remain in Bergen, knowing they would never see their home or loved ones again.

Thanks to their sacrifice in 1347, Iceland was spared the ravages of that deadly plague.

As the Adalstraeti Museum stated, the only thing we can know for certain about these people from the past is that they were there, alive in the moment. But it’s tempting to speculate.  Had you been on that ship, with buboes swelling in your groin, would you have resigned yourself to death in a foreign land to spare your countrymen a similar fate?  What if you were one of the crew with, as yet, no symptoms?  Would you still remain in Norway, surrendering any slim hope of survival, in order to contain the infection for the greater good?

I met my sister’s friend Rachel, a retired nurse, and her husband while visiting in Alaska. I was surprised last spring, when she left Juneau to fly to New York, which was suffering 600 deaths daily, as hospitals were slammed by CoVid-19 patients. Rachel joined thousands of healthcare volunteers working 12 and 16 hour shifts, collapsing into bed each night, and waking to start all over again.

A friend of mine volunteers at a shelter for homeless youth. Why risk it? I speculate that in each youth she sees a person plagued by fears and sorrows, yet clinging to hopes and dreams.  Like the girl with the lamb, these kids are alive in the moment, but their world was rife with hardship, danger, and isolation even before the pandemic struck. A pandemic shines a harsh light on society’s economic and racial disparities, and those kids are a tiny fraction of the people who’ve slipped through holes in our social safety net.

We don’t know what the next five years, or even five months will bring, but it will get worse before it gets better. Like the people of Reykjavik, we must care for each other. Some people are in no position to donate funds or volunteer outside of their place of shelter. But almost everyone can wash their hands and wear a mask when going out, if not to protect themselves, then to protect the vulnerable among us. Like those who were here–facing the camera–very much alive in the moment…

Everyone is someone’s child, parent, sibling or grandparent.

 Many have underlying conditions or circumstances you know nothing about.

Wearing a mask is inconvenient, but well worth it, if it can save even one life.

If you can’t do this one small thing for friends, family, neighbors, and community, it’s tempting to speculate…

…what kind of person are you?


Except where noted, ©2020 Naomi Baltuck
All rights reserved.

A Palace of Bird Beaks

The Queen of Sheba visited King Solomon bearing opulent gifts, and hoping to see if he was as wise as the stories claimed.

“What can I offer in return?” asked Solomon. “Only ask, and it shall be yours.”

The queen had also heard that Solomon spoke the language of the birds, but didn’t believe it. Here was her chance to kill two birds with one stone.  “Build me a palace made entirely of bird beaks,” she said, “if you can.”

“Oh, I can, ” boasted Solomon.  “You shall have it.”

To her amazement, Solomon summoned the birds, from every corner of the earth.

 

They heeded his call…

 

….from the tiniest hummingbird…

 

…to the majestic eagle.

 

“We’re going to make our nation the envy of the world,” he told his gathered flock, to the cheering of the birds.

 “But I need your beaks to build a palace.”  And the birds bowed their heads and wept.

 

“Stop fussing,” said the king.  “Everyone dies sooner or later.  Believe me, I know more about that than anyone else in the world.”   The king scanned his gathered flock as they waited to die.  “Where is the hoopoe bird?  Why isn’t she here?  How dare she defy me?”

 

Breathlessly, the hoopoe swooped in to land at his feet. “Forgive my late arrival, Sire. I’ve come from the ends of the earth, and I’ve seen so much along the way. I’ve even learned three things you don’t know.”

(photo in public domain)

 

“Really?”  King Solomon frowned.  “A lot of people say I’m the smartest king that ever lived.  I know more than anyone, about pretty much everything in the world.  What could you possibly know that I don’t?  Tell me quickly, before I take your beak.”

The other birds trembled, fearful that Hoopoe would upset the king, for they knew that he didn’t like his genius questioned.

 

“Sire,” asked Hoopoe, “do you know who it is that was never born, nor will never die?”

“Of course, I do!  The Lord of the Universe…

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…the Creator, who made the sky above us…

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…the earth we stand on…

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…every blade of grass…

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…every creature that walks…

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…or swims…

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…or crawls.

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King Solomon hesitated.   “Or flies.

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Solomon looked at the birds…

 

…each one magnificent…

 

…each in its own way…

 

…..each one created by the Lord of the Universe…

…and who had also made Solomon, and blessed him with wealth, power, and responsibility.

“What’s the second thing?” asked Solomon irritably.

“Sire, do you know what kind of water rises not from the earth nor falls from the sky?”

“Of course, I do!  It’s a tear that falls from the eye, born of sorrow.”

Solomon looked at the birds, their heads bowed, tears flowing, as they waited for him to chop off their beaks.  Might he have acted rashly in agreeing to build a palace of bird beaks?  But the Queen of Sheba, the whole world was watching, and he thought, “A promise is a promise.”

“One last question, Sire,” said the hoopoe.  “Do you know what is so delicate that it can put food into the mouth of a baby, yet is strong enough to bore holes into the hardest wood?”

“Of course, I do.  It’s a bird beak,” said the king.

(Photo by Amanda Lightfoot)

 

“Yes,” he repeated, “a bird beak, of course.”

 

Solomon looked upon the great gathering of birds, whose lives and children were as precious to them as his own were to him…

 

In his arrogance, he’d promised to build a useless palace to fulfill a selfish whim, and to make his own subjects pay for it, without considering the cost in blood and tears.  And he knew what he must do.

 

“Hoopoe, you’ve demonstrated courage for daring to resist this injustice.  I shall not demonstrate my power by destroying the defenseless.  You have helped me understand that my true power is in resisting my own cruel impulses.”

King Solomon turned to the Queen of Sheba.  “A truly wise and worthy leader must never be so proud that he can’t admit his mistakes, or do what he must to right a wrong.  There will be no palace of bird beaks, now or ever.”

The queen smiled and nodded.  “I came here to take the measure of a man, and I believe I’ve accomplished what I set out to do.”

 

Except where noted, all words and images ©2020 Naomi Baltuck

NAOMI BALTUCK (Writing Between the Lines)~ is the Zine’s Resident Storyteller.  She is a world-traveler and an award-winning writer, photographer, and story-teller whose works of fiction and nonfiction are available through Amazon HERE.

Naomi conducts workshops such as Peace Porridge (multicultural stories to promote cooperation, goodwill, and peaceful coexistence), Whispers in the Graveyard (a spellbinding array of haunting and mysterious stories), Tandem Tales, Traveling Light Around the World, and others. For more on her programs visit Naomi Baltuck.com.

Naomi says, “When not actually writing, I am researching the world with my long-suffering husband and our two kids, or outside editing my garden. My novel, The Keeper of the Crystal Spring (Viking Penguin), can be read in English, German, Spanish, and Italian. My storytelling anthology, Apples From Heaven, garnered four national awards, including the Anne Izard Storytellers’ Choice. I am currently working on a contemporary women’s novel.”

Bird Brains

A few years ago, our friend Pat gave us a funky little birdhouse resembling a camera.

We never expected anyone to occupy it, but to our delight, recently a pair of Bewick’s Wrens took up residence.

They built a nest, and a week ago, the eggs hatched. Now, when a parent approaches to feed the nestlings, they all peep, “Me, me, me!”

Both parents share childcare, feeding the babies…

…and changing diapers too. The nestlings poop into mucus bags resembling pea-sized white balloons, nature’s zip-locs, which contain the mess until their parents remove it. Eco-friendly disposable diapers!

 

Day after day, from sunrise until sunset, rain or shine, the ‘wrents’ forage for insects for their young. Every five minutes or so, they bring food and remove the fecal sack on the way out, keeping the nest clean. They’re averaging over 300 deliveries per day!

How can such fragile creatures, weighing no more than 3 or 4 ounces, sustain such a grueling pace?  Not once, but twice each season, Bewick’s Wrens produce a brood.

Once common back east, they’ve all but disappeared east of the Mississippi. Pesticides took their toll, and loss of habitat. Conditions changed, other populations moved in. House Wrens expanded their territory into that of the Bewick’s Wren, and aggressively destroyed the eggs and nests of Bewick’s Wrens.

Illustration of Bewick’s Wren by J. G. Keulemans, 1881.

A subspecies, Guadalupe Bewick’s Wren, native to Guadalupe Island, Mexico, went extinct in the 1890s, due to habitat destruction.  The San Clemente Bewick’s Wren died out in the 1940’s, due to habitat destruction by feral goats, and cats.  In California, development of canyons has caused a sharp decline in the Bewick’s Wren population.

When I saw omnivorous crows and Stellar’s Jays swoop in, I moved my office to the dining room table, where I could keep watch and shoo them away.  So much can happen, and so quickly. Babies can fall from the nest. A brood can fall prey to a cat, a snake, an invasion of wasps.  A parent can be snatched by a Cooper’s Hawk.

Last week, one of my own little Bewick’s Wrens was caught by my neighbor’s cat, who took it home via the cat door.  My neighbor saved and released the wren before it was harmed. I was relieved that it returned to its nest. If birds feel threatened by lurking predators, including humans, they sometimes abandon the nest, leaving the babies to starve.  It seems harsh, but instinct drives them to protect themselves, so they might live to breed again, and perpetuate the species.

The balance between survival and destruction is precarious.  Driven by their survival instinct, they make tough choices, and work themselves half to death to ensure the survival of the species, if not their brood.  Ironically, we call them ‘birdbrains’, and claim to be the intelligent ones.

We’ve overpopulated this planet, yet instead of conserving our resources, we’re tearing through them like there’s no tomorrow.  Instead of protecting the future of our young, we tilt at windmills; but some countries are embracing them.  Iceland gets 100% of its energy from renewable resources.  99% of Costa Rica’s, and 98% of Norway’s energy is clean and renewable. Those socially responsible governments have taken the lead, right across the high ground, and shown the whole world that it can be done.

While humanity teeters on the brink of self-destruction, other governments are taking action, but in the United States, our corrupt leaders ignore grave warnings of virtually every climate scientist in the world.  This administration behaves like common looters, greedily stuffing their own pockets, while the building they were hired to protect burns all around them.

In a BBC interview, scientific genius, the late Stephen Hawking, said that pollution, coupled with greed and stupidity, was the biggest threat to the human race, and that climate change would be humanity’s extinction event. “With the development of militarized technology and weapons of mass destruction…the best chance for the survival of the human race might be independent colonies in space.”

But what if, instead, we could be tireless caregivers, make those tough choices, those sacrifices, and be willing to do whatever it takes to ensure the survival of the species–all of them?  What if we could think like a bird that gets spit out by a cat and flies straight back to defend its nest?  Unlike birds, people can’t just pick up and go make a new nest; we have only this one small planet to call home.  Unlike people, even birds know better than to foul their own nest.

 

All words and images ©2019 Naomi Baltuck

 

Telling Tales Under the Rainbow

“When Bat came to the animals’ party, Zebra said, ‘You’re not an animal. You have wings. Go to the birds’ party!’  Bat went, but there it was the same. Eagle told Bat, ‘You’re not a bird. You’ve got fur and ears and teeth.’  Bat slunk away.  Perched on a branch, as he cried, he lost the strength to hold himself upright.  He flipped over to hang upside down, his tears dripping down to the ground.”

When the story was over, everyone in the circle applauded Allison.“It’s sad,” said the first listener. “If it were a kid’s book, the bats would get together and have their own party. But Bat doesn’t get a happy ending.”

“That’s reality. He didn’t choose to be this way and he’s rejected for it anyway.”

For me, this question of categorizing Bat is really important. It reminds me of going to the bathroom and choosing ‘Men’ or ‘Women.’ Or being bi and having everyone want to label you as either gay or straight. So begin our meetings at Under the Rainbow

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As the parent of gay children, Naomi Baltuck knew that few programs or public gathering places existed for LGBTQ in Edmonds, just north of Seattle.  In a climate of increasing intolerance, she wanted to use storytelling to heal, inspire, and strengthen the community.  But that connection had to be built on trust, and that trust had to be earned. Under the auspices of the Edmonds Neighborhood Action Coalition, she partnered with a local queer-friendly game pub to launch a monthly Family Gayme Time, which drew a good crowd. Once that was established, she asked the Edmonds Library to host a monthly storytelling series called Under the Rainbow, for LGBTQ and Allies. When they agreed, she contacted the high school’s Rainbow Warrior advisor, and the Edmonds Diversity Commission.

Allison Cox, social worker and author/editor of The Healing Heart books on storytelling for healthy families and communities, lent her expertise. We needed it. Under the Rainbow was built from scratch. Should there be rules? Age limits? Time limits? Language restrictions? Could we find LGBTQ storytellers willing to work gratis, since we had no budget? We put the word out, and along came Chris Spengler, a storyteller known for her humorous and uplifting personal tales. Chris jumped on board, and we had our team. Our vision wasn’t of polished performances, but to create a place for LGBTQ and Allies to share their own stories, to support each other and be supported.  Rules proved unnecessary in a place where everyone is respected.  Age limits too; we’ve had babies, elderly, and everything in between; everyone’s welcome.  Our team comes prepared to tell, to get things started. Most of our lives aren’t centered around being a lesbian or bisexual or a supporter of those who are, so we also tell stories dealing with sexism or rejection for not fitting family expectations or having to suddenly pick up and start your life over…the human condition.

The first Under the Rainbow drew only four, we three storytellers and a straight friend. We reminded ourselves that storytelling can be healing, but to a person who has been disowned for coming out, it’s emotionally risky. Eventually Gayme Timers made the leap from playtime to storytime. We got school referrals, utilized social media, and the Seattle Storytellers Guild championed the program, lending non-profit status for grant-writing.We meet at the library every Second Monday, 6:30-8PM. Refreshments are always served, because exchanges over cupcakes can be as momentous as those happening within the Story Circle. After each tale, participants are invited to share their reactions. Listeners opened up gradually.  The first time someone volunteered to tell a personal story, we were hopeful.  The next month, when a young person prepared a story ahead of time, we were elated.  Now nearly everyone shares. The gay son of a Mormon bishop, a straight elderly woman who dated a gay man in Lebanon fifty years ago.  We heard about being gay in Mongolia. Being homeless. At last month’s meeting, one coming out story led to another and another.

Tackety Boots (The Healing Heart ~ Families, edited by Allison Cox and David Albert) is a traditional Scottish tale about Sandy, who is kicked out of a party for having no story to tell, then takes an unexpected canoe trip across the river, changing gender in the process. He lives as a woman with another man and they have a child. Sandy finds the canoe one day and is shocked when it carries him back across the river and he becomes male again. Distraught, he bursts into the party and wins a bag of gold for telling the best story of the night. But Sandy could only whisper sadly, “Oh my child! Oh my man!”Allison even told the children’s classic, “Going on a Bear Hunt,” by Michael Rosen, an acknowledgement of all the times in life you “can’t go over it, can’t go under it, can’t go around it…got to go through it!” Everyone clapped in time, grinning like a kid.

Naomi chose Tatterhood, the Norwegian story of a girl born different. No matter how hard the queen tries to mold her into a princess, she defies taming and remains true to herself, but saves the day in her own way.  While traditional stories evoke conversation, Chris’s personal stories turn listeners into tellers.

The success of this program can’t be measured in numbers, but by the impact it makes on people’s lives. One participant rarely left the house, and never did so without their service dog.  Now they work an outside job, and can leave their dog at home when necessary.  Even more good things lie ahead.  We’ve just received a grant from the Pride Foundation to bring in more LGBTQ storytellers for programs and special concerts.  Writing Rainbow is a natural offshoot of Under the Rainbow.  We meet monthly at a queer-friendly Edmonds café to write, brainstorm, and meet other LGBTQ+A writers.  A Gayme Time spinoff is LGBTQ+A Dungeons and Dragons, where gaymers roleplay a crew of gay pirates, creating their own continuing adventure story.

Here, under the rainbow, we celebrate who we are.  It looks like the bats are having a party of their own after all!

All words and images ©2018 Naomi Baltuck, Chris Spengler, and Allison Cox.

The Match from Hell

 

Are you familiar with The Little Match Girl by Hans Christian Anderson?  It’s a tragic tale about a child trapped in a world of poverty and abuse, hunger and homelessness…

On New Year’s Eve, someone steals her ill-fitting shoes, so the little girl wanders barefoot through the snow, trying to sell matches to uncaring people hurrying home to warm houses and holiday feasts.  No one has a farthing or even a second glance for the unfortunate waif.  If she goes home having sold no matches, her father will beat her.  To keep the cold at bay, she huddles against a wall and strikes her matches, one at a time. In each tiny flame she sees visions: a warm stove, an elegant feast, a Christmas tree lit by candles…  

Then her dead grandmother, the only person who ever treated her with kindness, appears to the shivering child, and carries her soul off to Heaven. The next morning, the strangers who walked past her the night before discover the little match girl’s icy corpse, clutching the burnt-out matches in her frozen fingers.  Too late they feel a twinge of pity.  The end.

As a child, I hated that story.  I was appalled that grownups could look away from a child’s suffering, without lifting a finger to help.  Why would anyone invent such a depressing story, and who would want to hear it?

As an adult, I still hate that story, and even more now, because I realize that when Anderson wrote The Little Match Girl in 1845, except for the bit about the grandmother, he was fictionalizing a deplorable reality he himself was witnessing. He wrote during the Industrial Revolution, when the poor were miserable and overcrowded.  Pollution from the unregulated burning of coal poisoned the air, and factories were dumping metals, chemicals, raw sewage, and other toxins into the lakes and rivers that people depended upon for drinking water.

Wages were so low that the working class toiled 12 to 16 hours a day, yet still couldn’t earn a living wage.  On the brink of starvation, they sent their children to work in factories and mines.  Many were separated from their families, left to the ‘mercy’ of strangers, working ungodly hours for only a place to sleep and the food they ate.

In 1832 it was reported, “…workers are abandoned from the moment an accident occurs; their wages are stopped, no medical attendance is provided, and whatever the extent of the injury, no compensation is afforded.”  

The wealthy were given free reign to exploit the poor. When the Industrial Revolution sparked disputes over inhumane working conditions, the government introduced measures to prevent labor from organizing. The rich got richer, the poor remained poor, and children, who were forced to work all day or starve, couldn’t get an education to help them rise from poverty.

In the USA, industrialization occurred mostly in the North, with an influx of immigrants serving as factory fodder to keep up with attrition and demand. The South had its own foul history of systemic oppression, with its agrarian economy dependent upon human slavery.

Over time, Americans have fought and died for the cause of social justice.  They organized labor unions, which brought an end to child labor, shortened the work week, and ushered in workman’s compensation for on-the-job-injuries. They are still trying to negotiate a living wage.  Public education, Social Security, Medicare, Affordable Healthcare have all helped to even the playing field and a provide a social safety net.  Civil rights, women’s suffrage, Affirmative Action, environmental protection have, too.

We still had a long way to go to overcome class, gender, religious, and racial discrimination, such as the legacy of Jim Crow that still exists.  Yet we saw the middle class grow, the standard of living rise, and each generation doing better than the preceding one, until the 1970s.  What in Hell happened?  Ronald Reagan, and his trickle down economics, for starters.  It has been a downhill slide since then, snowballing since the Trump administration took power.

Today there is a little match girl on every street corner.  Our democratic republic has degenerated into an oligarchy, bought and run by big business, with puppet strings being yanked all the way from Russia.  International treaties have been broken, environmental protections scrapped to increase company profit, families torn apart by inhumane ICE policies, cruelly punishing the innocent children of undocumented immigrants. Affordable Healthcare, Social Security and Medicare are in the administration’s crosshairs.  The three richest men in America own more than half of this country’s wealth.  Our society has regressed two hundred years to become a near perfect match for the one that inspired Hans Christian Anderson to write The Little Match Girl.  A match made in Hell.

I will always hate that story.  But we need to keep telling it, until we can pound out a new ending.  We need to keep telling it, until we never need to tell it again.

©2018 Naomi Baltuck

Flowers (are like people)

Each flower…

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…is a miracle of nature…

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…a work of art.

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They are like people.  Each one shines on its own.

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But it is through contrast..

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…or complement….

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…and through interaction…

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…that we truly shine.

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All words and images copyright 2018 Naomi Baltuck

Looking for the Light

The things I used to write about–travel, photography, family fun–seem trivial as I watch my country die the agonizing Death by a Thousand Cuts.  It’s like staring into the sun–what little I write these days always seems to circle back to Trump and the Republican Party, as they rip apart the fabric of my homeland.  Like 72% of all liberals, I suffer from an actual phenomenon called Trump Anxiety.   Here are a few suggestions on how to stay positive.

Carry a camera wherever you go; search for beauty to photograph, and you will find it, even in the dark.  

 

Find comfort in a single ray of sunlight.

 

Get outside and let the soothing sensations of the natural world calm you…

 

…even in the rain.

 

Find a moment of peace in the simplest of pleasures.Painting by Andrew Wyeth, currently on exhibit at the Seattle Art Museum.

 

Like the sharing of music…

…or laughter…

…or a story…

…or even just a cup of coffee.

Be social, even if you have to stretch yourself…

 …and you will probably be glad you did.

If you need to escape, always have a good book in hand, and the next one in mind.

Patronize businesses that embrace your values.

If you can’t affect what happens in the White House, you can still help make your community a safe and welcoming place for everyone.  The local library is a good place to start.

Eva Abram, Roger Fernandes, and Allison Cox tell stories of Self and Solidarity.

To alleviate the feeling of helplessness, speak out whenever you can…

 

…however you can…

 

…wherever you are.

You will soon discover that you are not alone.

Anger eats away at you from the inside.  Love is better for your health.

Remember to be thankful for what you have, and don’t lose hope.

Especially this time of year, it is customary to push back the darkness and
celebrate the light.

It is there.

It is there.

 

It is there.

And keep in mind the words of King Solomon, who said, “This too shall pass.”

 

©2017NaomiBaltuck

Press Play

Last month I took a road trip with my kids Elijah and Beatrice, my sister Constance and her daughter Jane.

All roads lead to Grand Teton National Park, or they ought to.

We’d heard that Teton Pass might be closed due to wintry weather, and that temperatures were dropping below zero at night.  We decided to try and squeak in a quick visit before winter arrived, and were so glad we did.

The National Parks are among this country’s greatest treasures, but Grand Teton is the jewel in the crown.

It teems with history…

…and more history.

Wildlife…

…and more wildlife.

And beauty.

So much beauty.

Like my four sisters before me, I studied geology in Jackson Hole at the University of Michigan’s Rocky Mountain Field Station. I became a dedicated pedestrian, and spent a season hiking the trails in the park while waiting on tables in Colter Bay.  For more than fifty years it has been a place of pilgrimage for our celebrations and family reunions, as it has surely been for others.

Some things never change.

The town of Jackson has mushroomed, with strip malls and box stores everywhere.  Its old-fashioned drug store soda fountain has been turned into an overpriced rug store.  But Grand Teton National Park is as pristine as ever.

Every day, as we drove to a new trailhead, we popped a CD into the player and sang along, practicing our yodeling with Roy Rogers, Bill Staines, and Ranger Doug.  Every night after dinner, out came a bottle of wine and the musical instruments, usually in that order.  Back in the Saddle, Don’t Fence Me In, and My Sweet Wyoming Home were at the top of our playlist.  When we sang about a home where the buffalo roam…

…and the deer and the antelope play…

…we were really feeling it.

It had been years since the cousins had met up.  They were a little shy at first, but there’s nothing like making music to break the ice.

Music, for many of us, has come to mean the pre-recorded tracks on CD, iTunes, or the radio.  We experienced the joy of playing music, however imperfect, and being part of a creative endeavor larger than just ourselves.  It helped us tune into the soundscape all around us, ever changing and shifting…

…yet timeless.

© 2017 Naomi Baltuck 

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Eclipsed

Nearly a year ago, when we first learned of the solar eclipse, most motels in the Northwest Totality Zone were either booked, or charging up to $750 for a room.  So we reserved a B&B in the Eastern Oregon town of Moro, a forty minute drive to Totality. As the day approached, epic traffic jams of eclipse chasers were reported.  We left a day earlier than we’d planned, taking two days to travel 270 miles, with emergency gear: food, water, sleeping bags, gas can, a read-aloud book and our Kingston Trio CDs.

Traffic on I-5 was heavy, but we traveled east over the Cascades, cruising the speed limit, and sighting only the occasional RV heading to the Totality Zone from Yakima.

All the guests at our B&B were eclipse chasers.  There were two couples, first-time viewers up from California, and a German couple, first-time visitors to the US, who had crossed an ocean and a continent for a ninety second peek at a natural phenomenon they’d seen many times before.  I took that as a good sign.

Moro’s population is 316.  Its only cafe had gone belly up, and the market closes early on Sundays, but the local history museum was open.  We picnicked and were playing board games in our room when Thom discovered on Facebook that college friends were also staying in Moro at the only other accommodation in town, just a five minute walk away. Lona and Scott were as enthusiastic about the eclipse as you’d expect a science teacher and a librarian to be, and they had spent the last two days scouting out the best view spots. They invited us over, pulled out their maps and notes, and suggested a place just south of Shaniko, for its off-road parking and territorial views.

Taking no chances, we allowed four hours to travel the 38 miles into the Totality Zone. Rising at 5AM, we learned that the other guests were long gone. But the roads were clear and we were halfway there before the sun rose.  At least sixty people were camped at our viewpoint, with more arriving all the time. The buzz of excitement filled the air, though the eclipse was still two hours away.  One youngster kept a faithful watch, but I dozed, catching snatches of conversation between friendly strangers.

Finally the moon’s shadow began to pass over the face of the sun. Through protective glasses it looked like a sky cookie, with a bite taken out of it.

There was a drop in temperature and a subtle change of light.  We couldn’t tell over the noise of the crowd whether the birds stopped singing, but the people-watching was superb compensation.  For an hour, the moonshadow inched across the sun, its effect hardly noticeable, except through protective glasses. Without them, even with just a sliver of the sun peeking out from behind the moon, its light was blinding.

All at once, darkness eclipsed the world.  It was as if a one-eyed sleeping giant had suddenly awakened, and the sky was staring back at us.

The crowd erupted into wild cheers, and Thom and I shared their exhilaration.

I’d seen it depicted on canvas, demonstrated in planetariums and National Geographic specials. But seeing a total solar eclipse with my own eyes was like hearing ‘Ode to Joy” sung by a heavenly choir after seeing only the musical notation on paper.

(Ivan Generalić: Solar Eclipse, 1961, CMNA )

Our dear Sol had pulled off his glasses and shirt to reveal his Superman costume. Ninety seconds later–it felt like the blink of an eye–the sun emerged from the shadow.

We took a deep breath, hugged each other, and hit the road, hoping to beat the crush of outbound traffic. We were elated as we drove north, verbally processing the experience. We both questioned whether we’d used our few precious seconds wisely. Ironically, Thom regretted not taking a single photo, while I wondered if I’d made a mistake by placing a lens between myself and an awesome once-in-a-lifetime-celestial event.  Thom knew just what to say.  “Argentina in 2019.”  Yes, please!

A friend asked, half joking, if the eclipse had changed my life. Maybe. Especially if we go chasing the next one, which will appear in the Argentine sky in 2019.  Meanwhile, there is a whole lot of Awesomeness right here on the mother planet.

I’ve read that awe is the emotion created by an extraordinary encounter that drastically affects one’s assumptions of the world.  Experiencing this emotion can make us feel small, yet connected to something larger outside of ourselves, especially when the experience is shared by others. This was borne out in Shaniko, where traffic bottlenecked at the crossroads with the only stop sign in town. Traffic on the big road had the right of way. I feared we’d be at a standstill for hours waiting for an opening.

Then some generous soul hit the brakes and gave cuts to a person who was stuck at the stop sign, before continuing on.  The next person with the right of way also stopped to allow a car through.  They were still graciously taking turns when we reached the intersection, and were also waved on.  There was a mile of backup, but not a single horn honked, no one hollered, everyone was patient and polite, and we all moved forward together.  It was an awesome display of human nature.


There are other kinds of Awesome that sneak up on you.

Again.

And again.

These days we live under a dark shadow that has eclipsed our country, and the planet too.  Instead of chasing shadows, it feels like we’re trapped in the dark, fumbling for the light switch. I found the light when I accompanied family and friends to the Women’s March in Seattle last January.

I was awestruck.

 And I was not alone.

The solar eclipse did not move me to tears.  But I couldn’t hold back tears of relief and wonder at the sight of 135,000 people speaking up for equality and compassion, and speaking out against oppression, bigotry and hatred.

Tears flowed again.

And again.

And again.

If it’s a Solar Eclipse that fills you with awe and purpose, you need only wait a year or two, and somewhere on this planet there will be a next time, another chance. But in the United States, if you’re looking for an extraordinary encounter, or want to feel a part of something larger than yourself, if you want to be more than an observer, you’d better start now.  Because in a year or two, who knows what will be left to save.

We can’t sit on our hands hoping no one will get sick, or disenfranchised, arrested, abused, deported, or thrown into a concentration camp for no good reason. Our national parks, our environmental protections, our healthcare and social safety nets are being systematically carved up and sold to the highest bidder. Our politicians and our elections seem to be for sale as well. Our civil rights, our human rights, our right to protest in our own defense–these too are endangered by the deranged sociopath in the White House. We can only hope he won’t get into a pissing match with another tyrant and launch us into nuclear war.

We have no special protective glasses for this unnatural phenomenon, but we can’t afford to look away.  It’s time to tear off our glasses and invoke our inner superheroes. Our superpowers will be to speak for those who have no voice. To protect those who cannot protect themselves. To organize, educate, donate, speak out, rally and march.

Again.

And again.

And again.

And again.

And again!

This isn’t a solar eclipse; there are no do-overs.  I’m keeping the glasses, because I want to be prepared for the next big event.  2019 will be here before we know it.

And so will 2020.  

All images and text ©2017 Naomi Baltuck

 

Come From Away

Every day seems to bring news of another mass shooting or terrorist attack, close to home or across the sea.  And you can be sure there is more violence happening throughout the world that goes unreported.

Colleges, theaters, shopping malls, clinics, schools, temples and churches have been targeted by Christian Fundamentalists, White Supremicists, the mentally ill, and Islamic radicals. Even the 1999 New Year’s festivities at the Space Needle were in the crosshairs, but the would-be bomber was apprehended on the Canadian border with a carload of explosives.

 

It was in 2015, just after the attack in Paris.  The French flag was flying throughout Seattle in solidarity with our grieving friends across the sea, when I first saw “Come From Away,” a musical based on a true story that happened immediately following the attack on the World Trade Center.  

“September 11, 2001 was an ordinary day in Gander, Newfoundland—until it wasn’t.  Thirty-eight planes were diverted to its doorstep on that fateful day, making this small town host to an international community. The camaraderie that followed reminds us all of the power that comes from opening up your heart and your home.”   

In one day the population of Gander, Newfoundland nearly doubled when 7,000 stranded travelers showed up on their airstrip on September 11th, and were invited in to be fed and housed by the residents of Gander.

With the chain of horrific events set in motion in America on 9/11, you might think what happened in a tiny Canadian town wouldn’t matter.  But it did, and it still does.  It’s a reminder that for every senseless act of violence, there are people of all races, religions, and nationalities poised to rush in to give comfort and aid to anyone and everyone who needed it.

In “Come From Away,” there is laughter and tears, racial prejudice to overcome, relationships broken and others forged in the wake of this disaster, and music to pull together all these story threads.

It is the superpower of authors, playwrights, and screenwriters to create elemental stories that shed light upon the ills and inequities of our society–prejudice, poverty, oppression, and corruption.  Some of them find their way to the stage and screen, and from there, directly into the human heart.  They’ve changed the world, or at least our way of looking at it.  They allow us to walk in another person’s shoes, see through their eyes, and put a human face on the ills of the world.

West Side Story,  Showboat, Fiddler on the Roof, South Pacific, The King and I, Hairspray, The Book of Mormon, The Crucible, Allegiance, Angels in America, To Kill a Mockingbird, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, to name only a few.  Groundbreaking, courageous, and timeless.

It is a miracle–no, a blessing–that we can come from away, and after two acts and an intermission, go home with the realization that we are not alone in the world, and maybe even go home with the will to change it.

And that is our superpower.

All words and images c2017 Naomi Baltuck

That Was Then, This Is Now

When traveling in Italy, we took the kids to the Florence Museum of Science, now the Museo Galileo.  It housed a collection of early scientific instruments, old maps, and, of course, the history of Galileo Galilei.

Galileo was the genius who invented, among other things, the forerunner of the thermometer and an improved military compass.  He discovered The Galilean Moons of Jupiter.  His theory, known as The Galilean Invariance, provided a jumping off point for two other scientific geniuses, Isaac Newton and Albert Einstein, to form their revolutionary theories regarding motion and relativity.  Galileo is regarded as the father of observational astronomy, the father of modern physics, the father of the scientific method, and he even made it onto the list of the top ten people in history who changed the world.  But he’s probably best known for proving the Copernican theory of heliocentricity, which states that the Earth revolves around the Sun, rather than the other way around.

And that was his inconvenient truth.

The highlight of the Museo Galileo–at least for our kids–was the mummified finger of Galileo, resting in a fancy glass jar like a holy relic.  I suppose it’s appropriate for the revered patron saint of science.  Galileo was a pious Catholic and a martyr.  Ironically, it was the Church that made a martyr of him for Science.

In 1633, Galileo was summoned to Rome and brought to trial by the Roman Inquisition on the charge of heresy.  His crime was contradicting the Bible, which states that the Sun revolves around the Earth.

When the Inquisition threatened to extract a confession through torture, Galileo recanted, was found guilty, and sentenced to life imprisonment.  His sentence was commuted, and he spent the rest of his life under house arrest. He continued to write, although the Church slapped a gag order on him, banned his books and censored his writings for another 200 years, when even the Pope could no longer hold back the tide of scientific advancement.  When Galileo died in 1642, they weren’t even going to allow him a burial in consecrated ground.  It was thirty years before they inscribed his name on his burial place.  But in 1737, ninety-five years after his death, they brought his body out of the bad boy crypt and reburied him in a fancy marble tomb in St. Croce in Florence, across from Michelangelo’s tomb, because it was believed that Michelangelo’s spirit leapt into Galileo’s body between the former’s death and the latter’s birth.  Then, in 1992, Pope John Paul II did sort of apologize for wrongfully persecuting Galileo.

The wealthy have always had a place at the table, between religion and science, as patrons, enthusiasts, or opponents, but now Big Business sits at its head.  Big Business has bought and paid for a president that doesn’t believe in anything but the Almighty Dollar.  The Republicans sold their souls to secure their power, dropping any pretense of morality or family values, and they bought their majority by pandering to the far right, that thirty percent of America that interprets the bible as literally they might an instruction manual to the dashboard of a new car.  Science has suffered for it on both counts.

Texas is producing textbooks that not only disclaim evolution and pitch Creationism as its own brand of science, but it has cut out any reference to Climate Change.  Even the conservative Fordham Institute calls it a “politicized distortion of history.”  Texas is spoon-feeding its children claims that Moses was a Founding Father of America.  There’s a lot of money to be made in the textbook business, and the privatization of schools, not to mention the prisons.  If politics and religion, power and money are twisted into a huge tangled knot, Big Business still knows which strings to pull to get what it wants.

Civil Rights, equality, justice, education, and immigration are hot topics, but Climate Change is the new subject of denial by the Powers That Be.  A few years ago I’d have said the advancement of earth science was moving at a glacial pace, but that’s not so apt an analogy any more, because glaciers are melting at an alarming rate.  98 percent of the global scientific community now recognize climate change as real and caused by human activity, but the Republican party is in complete denial.  They stick their fingers in their ears and sing loudly to avoid hearing what they know is true.  Again, it’s all about money.  Environmental protection means restrictions, restrictions mean less profit for Big Business, and Big business gives politicians huge payoffs to deny Climate Change.  This has been an ongoing struggle for more than fifty years. The damage might already be irreversible.  A rapidly warming Arctic could loose a methane climate bomb resulting in widespread extinction in as little as nine years.

 You may be sure that history will judge them, just as it has judged the perpetrators of the Galileo affair.

But there is one huge difference in this particular power struggle.  It took 200 years for the popular tide to become too strong to resist, at which time the Church bowed to reality and accepted Galileo’s proof of a heliocentric Earth.  But in the case of Climate Change, we don’t have 200 years.  We don’t have ten years.  We can’t wait for the next Newton or Einstein to show up, and we don’t need them to.  Our climate scientists have already done the math, and it might already be too late.

And that is our inconvenient truth.

Copyright 2016 Naomi Baltuck.

Photos of Galileo courtesy of Wikipedia.

 

 

Look Upon My Works, Ye Mighty

Teachers, parents, siblings, mentors of every kind leave their mark upon us.  I was in the fifth grade at Isaac Newton Elementary school in Detroit when my teacher, Mrs. Chapman, had us memorize Ozymandias, a poem composed in 1818 by Percy Bysshe Shelley.  Then we had to recite it to our classmates.

I walked to the front of the room and paused, a dramatic device storytellers employ to command the attention of their audience.  Actually, I was just trying not to throw up: it was my first public solo performance.  I was terrified, but it was also electrifying to be able to convey such a compelling story, such unforgettable imagery.   Not only did I not throw up, but I got an A.  And I never forgot that poem.

My mother used to recite poetry to us, like “Daffodils” by Wordsworth and “The Highwayman” by Alfred Noyes.  Over the years I’ve shared Ozymandias and other gems (okay, sometimes I sing jingles from the TV commercials I watched as a kid), to a certain captive audience–my children.  Occasionally I recognize my own words reflected back to me from the mouths of my babes.  Sometimes to my chagrin, but most often to my surprise and delight.

My son Eli is home between teaching assignments…

…and tonight Bea returns from Stanford on spring break.  It will be so good for us all to be back together again.  My ritual, when the kids depart for school, is to tidy their rooms, change the sheets, and drop a tear or two as I make their rooms ready for them to come home to the next time…and they are always grateful.

The last time Eli left I was tempted to hire a bulldozer…

…but it’s like spending a little quiet time with that absent child.

Last night, in a burst of inspired procrastination (he was tired of reorganizing his own room), Eli decided to surprise Bea by cleaning her room, and not just the sort of tidying I do, but a thorough reorganization, including the mountain of books stacked haphazardly in the corner, that pile of her things parked just inside the door, not to mention the surprise found in a teacup discovered under a pile of stuff on her desk.  It’s either a science experiment or a strange new life form.  It took Eli over five hours.  He found so many new ways and places to shelve books that they almost fit on her shelves now!

But nothing comes without a price tag.  In fact, after Eli was finished, everything had a tag on it.  Oh, yes.  He had made his mark.

I love this one…

But my absolute favorite touch was the greeting on the door.

I howled with laughter. “Oh, good,” said Eli. “I didn’t know if you’d get the reference.”  “Do I get the reference?” I asked, launching into a recitation of Ozymandias.  “How did you think of it?”  He said he remembered it from all the times I’d recited it.  Of course I  ran to find my book of Shelley…

When I opened it up in search of the poem, I saw that someone else had made her mark.  Upon the book…


…and maybe even upon me.

The poetry and the stories we pass from generation to generation enrich and prepare us for the struggles we will face, within ourselves and in the outside world.  I believe they will outlast the Mighty and their monuments to themselves, and, I hope, their wars.

Thanks, Mom.  Thanks, Mrs. Chapman.  Thank you, son.  And welcome home, Bea!

All images and words (except for Mr. Shelley’s, of course) copyright Naomi Baltuck

The “H” Word

Many years ago my daughter came home from kindergarten and told me, “Michelle said a bad word at school today.”

“Which one?” I asked.

“The ‘S’ word.”

“Ohhhh.”  Subject matter we don’t want our kids learning in school.  “Do you know what it means?” I asked.

My five year old flashed me an I-wasn’t-born-yesterday look, and said, “It means stupid.”

I heaved a mental sigh of relief, and exercised my Superpower Poker Face to keep from laughing.  “Do the kids say any other bad words?”

My daughter solemnly nodded.  “The ‘H’ word,” she said.

“Help me remember what that stands for.”

“Hate,” she told me.

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I was a storyteller long before I had kids, and understood the power of words. That didn’t prevent me from indulging in colorful language, mostly offstage. But when my first child was born, I determined to turn all my verbal toads and snakes into rubies and pearls.

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Just as I saw the world anew through my children’s wondering eyes, I listened through their innocent ears.  I saw how words loaded with negativity seep into the consciousness like toxins into groundwater.  At our house, everyone was encouraged to speak their minds, using language constructively, not to hurt or humiliate.

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When my little innocents toyed with the word ‘hate,’ I explained that some words aren’t naughty but are powerful, and must be saved for emergencies or they lose their power.  Just like with TV violence or antibiotics, excessive use results in an unhealthy immunity.  Hate was a word rarely heard in our house.  But since the election, that and many other ‘H’ words have come into common usage all over America.

H is for Harassment.

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H is for Homophobic.

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H is for Hitler, for Holocaust, for He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named, that Haughty Hot-Tempered Hypocrite who is Hijacking our Homeland to Hell in a Hand-basket.

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A great man once said that a house divided cannot stand.  Inciting fear and hatred is the traditional means of dividing a people and strengthening a power base. Every day the Republicans implement new policies legalizing the persecution and diminishing the rights of people based on race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, national origin, and socio-economic status.

H is also for heartsick, which is how the majority of US citizens feels as American ideals are trampled and tossed aside.  So last January 21st, here in Seattle, in solidarity with people throughout America, and on every continent in the world–even Antarctica–we donned our pussy hats and marched.

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It buoys the spirits to walk shoulder to shoulder with 135,000 like-hearted people…

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…in a crowd stretching farther than the eye can see.

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People protested against the Republican threat to freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and equal justice for all.

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Even those who had never been politically active took to the streets.

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These were people who weren’t afraid to speak up and speak out.

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People who cared about the greater good.

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People for whom the ‘H’ word is Hope.

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Harmony.

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Healing.

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H is also for hero…

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…and heroine.

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H is for happening, for hookup, for hive and home and herd.

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 For heart.

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For helping hands.

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H is for holdfast.

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H is also for humanity and high ground.  And that’s why and where we’ll take our stand.


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All words and images copyright 2017 Naomi Baltuck

 









Boots on the Ground

Last month concerned citizens rallied in Olympia in solidarity with protestors in fifty state capitals.  We had hoped to convince electors to vote their conscience. In light of all that has passed since then, it seems naïve to have hoped they might step out of the party line.

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Those who lived through the rise of Hitler see history repeating itself. As a student of history, I looked back even further. When Trump bragged, “I could stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose voters,” I thought of the Latin phrase, agere et pati, ‘to act and to endure,’ a perfect description of medieval society.

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Bodiam Castle, East Sussex.

There’s a striking parallel between our current social order and that of the Middle Ages, in which the wealthy ruling class acted and peasants endured. Peasants made up ninety percent of the population. Lords squeezed serfs for taxes plus three days of unpaid work per week. The church exacted two more unpaid workdays, and a compulsory tithe, 10% of their income, forcing peasants to live hand to mouth. Nobility had the power of life and death over them, while the church tortured and executed dissenters.  Protest was not an option.

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Traitors Gate, Tower of London. They go in, but they don’t come out.

Like Trump and the GOP, the nobility and the church had their snits, but mostly they scratched each other’s back. Nobles gave financial support to the church, and the church justified the social order by declaring it God’s will that nobles should possess all the wealth and power, and God’s will that peasants and serfs should live to serve them.

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To cement the pact, the church placed highborn second sons into powerful positions in its own hierarchy. This artful deal resulted in feudal nobility with an iron grip on peasants, and peasants who were taught from birth to endure their sorry lot and wait obediently for their reward in Heaven. Nothing changed for centuries.

Burying plague victims.

It took the Black Death to upset the fruit basket. The plague hit Europe in 1347, killing half the population over the next five years.  With the workforce so reduced, nobles hadn’t the manpower to till their fields or chase down runaway serfs. Surviving peasants finally had some choice about whom to work for, and could demand decent wages or leave, maybe even to learn a trade in the city. At last upward mobility was possible, and the middle class got a toehold in society.

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Thirty-five years later, in 1381, to pay for its pricey Hundred Years War with France, the English government imposed its fourth Poll (per head) Tax in four years. It was a regressive tax, hardest on peasants, who shouldered as much of the Poll Tax burden as the wealthiest landowners.  Just when the peasants thought it couldn’t get worse…

King Richard II

…King Richard II issued The Statute of Laborers, capping wages and forcing workers to accept the same miserable conditions they had labored under before the plague struck. The new law threatened severe punishment to serfs and peasants who dared seek better conditions or higher wages.  It also forbad merchants and tradesmen to charge the market price for goods and services, and ordered a return to pre-plague prices. King Richard even tried to cut the only social security the poor had by forbidding beggars to beg.  In other words, he wanted to make England great again.

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In an unprecedented protest, 60,000 peasants marched to London to demand an audience with the king. 2000 protestors died in the ensuing violence, and others did too, including the archbishop, the king’s treasurer, and a number of tax collectors. The peasants dispersed after the king made promises, which he broke, and granted pardons for the rebels, which he revoked. Rebels were hunted down and executed.

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Richard II meets with rebels by Jean Froissant.

After the dust settled, it might’ve seemed like nothing had changed, but historian Michael Postan says the revolt made history, “as a landmark in social development and a typical instance of working-class revolt against oppression.” If only for fear of another uprising, peasants were treated with more respect, the hated Poll Tax was never again raised, and it marked the end of feudalism. Most importantly, peasants set their sights on astonishing new, if distant goals; freedom, equality, and democracy.

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We face difficult days ahead. Our hard won democracy has deteriorated into an oligarchy—a nation ruled by a small elite group of the obscenely wealthy. Any power or constitutional rights we lose to Trump and the Republicans will be difficult to recover. In D.C., the House, the Senate, and the White House are controlled by Republicans. Trump hasn’t assumed office yet and they’re already ripping apart safeguards.

We can’t afford to surrender to despair or even resignation. We must resist. Since the Peasants’ Revolt, we’ve had shining examples of nonviolent civil disobedience from heroines and heroes like Harriet Tubman, Mahatma Ghandi, Martin Luther King, Susan B. Anthony, Cesar Chavez, Lech Walesa, and the Standing Rock Lakota. Nonviolent movements like the Underground Railroad, the Women’s Suffrage Movement, the Civil Rights Movement, United Farm Workers, and the Dakota Access Pipeline Resistance have brought change that makes a difference in all our lives. Not without sacrifice, but with hope, courage, and determination.

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Harriet Tubman, civil rights activist, abolitionist, humanitarian.

Solidarity in Communist Poland began with strikes to demand a free trade union, and resulted in freedom and democracy for the Polish people. There was the Velvet Revolution of Czechoslovakia. The Singing Revolution in Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania began with people gathering to sing national songs forbidden by the Communists. Four years later they were independent nations, free of Soviet rule.

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Every protest matters. It’s an act of faith, almost a prayer. Not the kind in which you petition for a miracle or  just a quick win.  The kind that lends you strength to endure however long it takes, but also transforms you from silent sufferer to person of action. You’ll be there for those who have no voice, or who need help finding their own voice. You’ll be there to inform the public and to lift each other up, to remind yourself that you are not alone.

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Each act of resistance repays a debt to those who fought and sacrificed on a battlefield, in a courtroom, or on a picket line to make our lives better. And each act of resistance is a gift to our children and grandchildren.  One day this will all be history. When people look back, and they always do, I hope to be remembered for fighting for what’s right. It’s time to call out the lies, write our congress, gather those signatures, and save our nation from a shameful demise.  It’s time to put our boots on the ground.

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Copyright 2017 Naomi Baltuck

Telling It to the Walls

A poor widow was living with her two sons and their wives. They treated her shamefully, but the old woman had no one to turn to with her woes and nowhere else to go, so day after day she suffered in silence.  Her sons and daughters-in-law mocked her, and begrudged her every crumb of bread, every grain of rice.  Even as the widow starved, her misery grew.

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One day, when she could no longer bear the pain, she slipped out of the house and walked down the road.  She had no idea where she was going, until she came to a house so decrepit there wasn’t even a roof left. She felt strangely drawn to the deserted house and stepped inside.

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To her surprise, she found herself telling the nearest wall her grievances against her firstborn son, whom she had showered with love from the first time she felt him quickening inside her, and who now had no use for her.

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As she finished, the wall crashed to the ground under the weight of her sorrow, and she felt her burden grow lighter.

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She turned to the next wall and the tears flowed as she described the cruelty of her first son’s wife…

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…who gave her only rags to wear and threatened to send her out with a bowl to beg.

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The second wall collapsed and she grew lighter still.

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She told the third wall about her second son’s ill treatment…

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…and the fourth wall her complaints against his wife.

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When she was finished, the old woman stood amidst the wreckage, watching the dust settle.  She still had nowhere else to go, but as she turned homeward to face her life,  just for the telling of the tale, she felt lighter in body and spirit than she had in a long, long time.


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–Retold in Apples From Heaven, Copyright 1994 & 2016 Naomi Baltuck.


Risistance Is NOT Futile

All the stars and planets were aligned…Just after the election I had a birthday, which I share with my binary brother, Lewis.  In sixty years we’ve never spent a birthday apart. Like so many of us, he was shocked, saddened, crushed by the election results.  There was only one thing to do.  We played space age hooky, beamed him out of the office and transported ourselves to the Seattle Center.

Specifically, to the EMP, which is celebrating 50 years of Star Trek.

I hardly remember life before Star Trek. And talk about The Next Generation! My children absorbed Star Trek by osmosis in utero. As I ascended the stairs to the EMP tribute, the Star Trek theme song elicited a visceral response that only gets stronger as I get older.  I’ve lived long enough now to see many of these stories played out on my planet in real time.


The Star Trek universe was built upon a future where poverty was eliminated, equality and diversity went hand in hand, and the good of the many took precedence over the few.  Humans had learned to cooperate, and put an end to war.  All of Earth and the Federation of Planets collaborated on peaceful missions of exploration.  What a concept!  A bit rosy, but a vision worth striving for.

Lew and I arrived early and shared the floor with only a few others, including a very cute couple in Star Fleet uniforms.

Lew and I shared a womb for nine months, and managed to both fit into a Borg Regeneration Chamber too.

Star Trek had action and adventure, but was also thoughtful and intelligent.  Writers could get away with astute critical social commentary, because it was all happening in another universe. Thinly veiled stories posed tough questions about civil rights, social disparity and racism in our own society.

Martin Luther King was marching for basic civil rights and a place at the lunch counter for African Americans when Classic Trek was filmed, featuring a black woman as fourth in command on the bridge of the Starship Enterprise.

It wasn’t long before a woman would captain the Federation Starship Voyager.

A black man was in command of the space station, Deep Space Nine.

Julian Bashir, whose Arabic name means “bringer of good news,” was the doctor on DS9.

In the original series Lt. Sulu was played by George Takei, who is gay.  Fifty years later, in the most recent Star Trek movie, writers gave Sulu a child and a husband, a powerful tribute to the actor who first brought Sulu to life. More importantly, it was an unwavering moral and political statement of inclusiveness that brought tears to my eyes.

For just a little while, it felt good to be in a place of Equal Opportunity bridges, and not walls.  Right now we are in the middle of our own episode, so scary it seems like science fiction, with the world we’ve worked so hard to build spinning out of control.  The incidence of hate crimes is rising dramatically.  Social security is threatened.  Fifty years of social progress is at risk as minorities, immigrants, women, LGBTQ, people with disabilities, and the poor are in danger of being disenfranchised.  The environment is on the brink of ruin beyond recovery because in this episode The Almighty Dollar is worshipped at all costs.  In this story, we don’t have other worlds to relocate to after we’ve ruined this planet. Too many episodes begin with civilizations that have self-destructed, or are ruled by uncaring masters who live in the clouds in their own decadent paradise, while the workers they exploit to maintain their lifestyle live in a harsh ugly world. You probably saw “Patterns of Force,” the episode pictured below; there are people old enough to have lived through that reality, and who recognize the signs in our country today.

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If we wait until the 24th century to be rescued, or for ‘enlightenment’ to kick in, we’re going to find ourselves back in the Dark Ages wondering what happened.  Anyone who has watched Star Trek knows how difficult it is to travel back in time to change the future.  Star Trek’s writers say,  “…start by picking a resolution…then plan each step so it drives the story toward the ending you want…”

Every episode needs conflict to give a story purpose and move the plot forward.  Star Trek writers created a terrifying foe called The Borg...”individuals who have been captured and assimilated…and transformed into mindless worker drones…What’s frightening about the Borg is not their violence…They are unhampered by empathy for other beings, believing their way is perfection…The Borg are, in essence, a virus that uses civilizations as its hosts.”

Can you see where our country is headed?  We will NOT be assimilated. Our story must end with a world where people of every race, religion, gender, and sexual orientation live and work together, without fear of banishment, punishment or judgement simply for being who they are.  Our story must end with respect, inclusivity, and compassion for all.  We must do whatever it takes to make it so.  The reason Star Trek has become such a lasting legacy is because it is hopeful and empowering and delivers a message we need to hear.  The captain’s chair is ready.  Let’s take our tall ship, keep an eye on that star to steer her by, and go full speed ahead, warp factor 10.  Whatever happens, please remember…Resistance is NOT futile.  It is the only way we ever have or ever will make any headway, and it will be a crucial message to the next generation.

©2016 Naomi Baltuck

 

 

Looking for Poland

This was our first trip to Poland, and Krackow, a UNESCO World Heritage site, was our first stop. Krackow dates back to a little Stone Age settlement.

 It’s is remarkably well preserved for a city that has stood for over a thousand years, and survived the hell that was World War II.

 

Even the McDonalds there is deeply rooted in Poland’s ancient history.

Literally!  During its construction, medieval foundations were discovered and incorporated into the restaurant design. We bought a cup of coffee so we could go downstairs to check out the McVault in the basement, and it was like nothing you’ve ever seen in The House That Ronald Built.

Krackow suffered under the Nazis, but Warsaw got pounded.  At the Warsaw Uprising Museum we watched a movie that gave us an aerial view of post-war Warsaw. Of that bustling metropolis, only miles and miles of rubble and ruins remained.  The scale of destruction was unimaginable.

 

When the Poles defended themselves against the German invasion, the Nazis response was to destroy hospitals, schools, churches, universities, and commit mass murder upon both Jew and Gentile. When finally forced to retreat, out of spite the Nazis blew up anything still standing.

The Peugot Building was built where the old synagogue once stood. The Jewish Historical Institute is next door, in a reconstructed building that housed the Jewish Library.

Between the Nazis and the Soviets, over 400,000 Warsovians were murdered in the war. Those lives and all their promise can never be replaced. But the people of Warsaw rebuilt their city, brick by brick.  Canaletto’s 18th century paintings were used as visual references to recreate beloved heritage sites.  All along The Royal Way that artwork is displayed…

…in front of the structures that were rebuilt using them as guides.

You can’t say they don’t make ’em like they used to.

The Warsovians resurrected the Old Town Square too.

 Some say it’s like Disneyland, too perfect, but I thought it was beautiful, and I loved all the cool details.

 The royal palace in Warsaw…

…was also destroyed and reconstructed.

Some furniture and other treasures were spirited away before the Luftwaffe bombings, but the throne room and the banner with its royal eagles were destroyed.

  Only one of the original eagles survived, and somehow found its way to the United States.  It was used a model to replicate the original design.

 The clock in the Knight’s Hall, featuring the god of time, is forever stopped at 11:15, a moment never to be forgotten– the exact time the Nazis bombed the palace.

Poland’s history is harsh and fascinating, colorful and complicated.

Reminders of its painful past are everywhere–like the memorial to the Uprising of the Warsaw Ghetto Jews killed in this bunker by the Nazis. 

The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier on Pilsudski Square, which was called Hitler Platz when occupied by the Germans.

We saw statues honoring the Polish Resistance and the Warsaw Uprising…

…and one honoring the children who worked for the resistance, although their roles involved carrying messages more often than guns.

There was the memorial to the 15,000 Polish officers murdered in 1940 by the Soviet army at Katyn.

There were even teenage street musicians in uniform, singing war songs.

On a street corner we glanced down and realized we were standing on what used to be the Ghetto Wall.

So much suffering.  So many stories, most of which can never be told.

After living under the jackboot of the Nazis, like so many other countries of Eastern Europe, the Poles endured further decades of Soviet oppression.  But each new rebellion brought them closer to independence.

The success of the Solidarity movement was a long time coming, a difficult struggle that was as much for freedom as for bread.

It is all inextricably woven into the fabric of their nation’s past.

I wondered how it had affected the people…

…and how much of it was passed from one generation to the next.

After centuries of oppression and foreign rule…

…Poland is now a prosperous and independent Democracy.

I saw joy there, most often in stolen glimpses.

But wherever we went we felt safe.  People were always polite and helpful….

…although rarely quick to smile.

I’ve heard that Europeans believe Americans smile too much and too easily, and perhaps we do.

But in Gdansk…

…an old woman caught me watching her.  I could either avert my eyes and hurry on, or smile and give a little wave, which I did.  And when I did, she smiled back with such unexpected warmth that I couldn’t help myself–I blew her a kiss.

That was Poland in a nutshell.

All words and photos copyright 2014 Naomi Baltuck.

Holding Up the Sky

Elephant was walking through the forest when he spied a bright patch of color on the trail before him. He stopped and looked more closely.  It was Hummingbird, lying on her back in the middle of the path, with her tiny legs high up in the air.

“Hummingbird!  I almost stepped on you!” said Elephant.

“I’m sorry,” said Hummingbird.  “But I heard the sky was going to fall today, and I wanted to be ready.”

“Ready?” asked Elephant.

“Yes.  To hold up the sky,” said Hummingbird.

Elephant laughed.  “Do you you think you could hold up the sky with those skinny little legs?”

“Not all alone,” admitted Hummingbird, “but I’m ready to do my part.”

Elephant looked down at the little bird.  And he thought.  And he nodded. Then he lowered himself slowly down onto his knees, rolled over onto his back, and into the air went four big legs, and a trunk.

–a tale from China–

“Holding Up the Sky” is retold from Margaret Read MacDonald’s Peace Tales: World Folktales to Talk About.

© 2016, words and photograph, Naomi Baltuck, All rights reserved; photo as indicted in the hallmark

All Things Are Connected

The chief of a certain village had many advisors.

If there was something he wanted done, he would order it done, and it would be done.”Is it a good thing?” the chief would ask. Whether it was a wise decision or no, his counselors always agreed.  Those who did not were beaten.  There was one counselor who never said ‘yes’ and never said ‘no.’  This counselor would consider the matter and reply, “All things are connected.”


One night when the chief couldn’t sleep, he became aware of the noisy croaking of the frogs in the nearby marshes.  Once it came to his attention, he found himself listening for it each night.  The sound annoyed him so much he ordered all the frogs killed.


“Do you agree with my plan?” he asked.  His counselors all agreed, except for the one, who warned, “All things are connected.”  “Pah!” said the chief, and that night he sent his people to the marshes to kill frogs.

They killed frogs and they killed frogs until there were no frogs left to kill.

“Ah,” said the chief. “Now I shall be able to sleep.”
That night he slept very well, and for many nights thereafter.

But one night he heard another annoying sound.  “Zzzzzz…Zzzzz…Zzzzzzzzzzzz…”

He summoned his counselors.  “The mosquitoes are worse than the frogs!  Why didn’t you tell me they would rise in swarms and eat us alive without the frogs to eat them?  Tonight I will send my people to the marshes to kill all the mosquitoes!” So they killed mosquitoes and they killed mosquitoes. But as many they killed, there were many more left. The mosquitoes made life so miserable that everyone left their fields and homes to start new lives far away, until the village was deserted, except for the chief and his family.


All day long the chief sat alone in his hut, swatting mosquitoes and muttering, “All things are connected.” But it was too late for the frogs. Too late for the village. Too late for the chief.  Finally he too moved away.

The wise understand that all things are connected…

By the ground we walk on…

By the air we breathe…

By the the water we drink…

By the rhythm of the heart.

All things are connected…

…and hang by a delicate thread.

Where is the balance between give and take?

Can we learn the difference between just enough…

…and too much?

All…

…things…

…are…

…connected.

What kind of world do we want to leave our children?

The answer is in our hands.

All words and images copyright 2016 Naomi Baltuck

 

You Just Never Know

Once upon a time, there was a swamp that was home to many creatures, including…

…frogs. 

Two frogs decided to see the world.  They went hop-hop, hop-hop-, hop-hop down the road in search of adventure.

They came to a big farm, and croaked out a cheery greeting to the dairy cows.

Then they went inside the big barn to explore.

There were so many new and exciting things to see in there!

But as they jumped about, they accidentally landed in a big pitcher of cream.

They tried to climb out, but the sides were too steep and slippery, and they slid back into the cream. Even frogs don’t like to die: they tried everything they could think of to escape.  When that didn’t work, they tried everything they couldn’t think of.

“It’s no use!” said the first frog. “We’re doomed!” And he sank down into the cream and disappeared.

But that second little frog…she kept swimming about with all her tiny frog might, just to keep from drowning.  The cream began to block her eyes and nose. Just when she thought she couldn’t swim another stroke, she felt something strange beneath her feet.  She was standing on a big lump…of butter!  With the brave paddling of her own tiny frog legs, she had churned that cream into butter.  She leapt out of the bowl and went hop-hop, hop-hop, hop-hop down the road, in search of another adventure.

 

All words and images Copyright Naomi Baltuck

A Perfect World

Four years ago my daughter Bea and I flew down to California to scout out Stanford. Last week the whole family flew in for her graduation.

She showed us the hotspots around town.

For sentimental reasons we brunched at an Anatolian restaurant. My Turkish ravioli with garlic yogurt sauce was a hit.

 

Amidst the chaos we found a shady spot for a game of Pandemic.

And saved the World.

We dined with the parents of Bea’s friend, Ben Bravo, who was gifted with the perfect name for a superhero or the hero of a romance novel!  After four years of hearing such good things about them, it was great to meet all the Bravos.

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Then we partook of a time-honored graduation ritual…in which the graduate’s family arrives with empty suitcases and packs up her stuff while she flits in and out, saying hello to her friends’ visiting parents, and farewell to her friends.

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Saturday morning was the Baccalaureate.

We heard a Buddhist Singing Bowl, a prayer of the Ojibway Nation, a reflection by Bea’s friend Zainub, Taiko drumming, and other benedictions, a celebration of spiritual diversity and mutual respect.

Bea graduated with honors, with distinction, and awards, including The Amy Levy and a Fulbright.  She had her village. Bea was…blessed is the only word that will do…to have been mentored by such remarkable professors as Dr. Gabriella Safran…

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…and Dr. Allyson Hobbs, whose hearts are as large as their intellects, and who kindly took my chick under their wing. Their encouragement made all the difference.

Bea and her brother are very close, besties, village peeps.  Eli traveled from Mexico to help her pack up, to celebrate and support her, even though he had to fly out at dawn on Sunday, missing the Commencement.

But Bea’s besties Denise and Marcus remained to cheer her on.

An airplane circling overhead trailed a message. Like many universities, Stanford is accused of sweeping those stories–and victims–under the rug, or throwing them under a bus, especially when the perpetrators are college athletes.

At Stanford commencement opens with a procession known as The Wacky Walk.

As individuals…

…or in groups…

…students parade around the stadium free to express themselves as they choose.

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I liked the funeral procession for the fallen GPA, with a trumpet playing Taps.

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Some protested after a Stanford swimmer was slapped on the wrist for sexually assaulting an unconscious woman. Had two students not witnessed the crime, intervened, and apprehended him, I doubt there would’ve been any consequences for the rapist. The victim will be traumatized the rest of her life, but the actions of two heroes and the resulting prosecution sends a message to sex offenders. This time the message is “Don’t get caught,” but one day people might grow up learning to “Treat everyone, even women, with respect.”

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Grads welcomed commencement speaker Ken Burns, a legendary filmmaker who has spent his life shedding light on The Civil War, The War, The West, The National Parks and more.

A stark contrast, from Wacky Walk to observing a moment of silence in solidarity with survivors of sexual violence, and victims of the massacre at a gay club in Orlando that morning. I blinked back tears when the audience spontaneously began counting aloud for each victim of that vicious hate crime…47, 48, 49. Pure pride and joy for my child turned to trepidation at sending her out into our broken world.

Ken Burns proved there’s still intelligent life on the planet, and even in America. His speech was wise and courageous. He ventured off the safe path to politics. Referring to the LGBTQ massacre in Orlando,”We must ‘disenthrall ourselves’…from the culture of violence and guns.”

He implored grads to defeat Trump, “…a person who easily lies…who has never demonstrated interest in anyone or anything but himself and his own enrichment; who insults veterans, threatens free press, mocks the handicapped, denigrates women, immigrants and all Muslims…an infantile, bullying man…willing to discard old and established alliances and treaties…Asking this man to assume the highest office in the land would be like asking a newly minted car driver to fly a 747…”

A few people booed, but the majority burst into cheers. Ken concluded…  “We must remain committed to the kindness and community that are the hallmarks of civilization…”  Click here and scroll down for Mr. Burn’s excellent closing advice to grads. 

The Class of 2016, at Stanford and throughout the US, has scattered, gone home, to a new job, grad school, even to Mongolia on a Fulbright.

It’s an exciting time, and a little scary as these young adults test their wings and search out their flight path in the Real World.

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Bless them all!  We should have gift-wrapped a bright shiny world and tied it in a bow for them. Instead we’ve left them a mess and must ask them to help us save our precious broken world.  It isn’t a game, neatly laid out on a board, with the rules spelled out, and a clear path to winning clearly stated in the instructions.

Perfection is possible only in a perfect world.  Do you think we could ever commit ourselves to kindness and community, and treat each other and our planet with respect?  Because that would be close enough to perfect for me.

Except for quotes by Ken Burns, all words and images©2016NaomiBaltuck

 

You Rock

The Rock of Gibraltar is a monolithic limestone promontory so sturdy it was known in ancient times as one of the Pillars of Hercules. It marked the end of the known world. 30,000 years ago one of its caves sheltered a little band of Neanderthals. In 710 A.D. a Moorish castle was built by the Berber chieftain Tariq inb-Ziyad, who gave the Rock his name. In Arabic it is Jebel Tariq, or the Mount of Tariq. It has endured 14 sieges throughout its rocky history.  Against all odds, the British held The Rock against the Nazis in WWII.  It has proven such a stronghold that it inspired the saying, “solid as the Rock of Gibraltar,” and is used to describe a person or situation that cannot be overcome and does not fail.

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It makes me reflect upon the people in my life who are as solid as the Rock of Gibraltar, who I can count on without fail.

Thank you, Thom, dear husband, for being my rock. In so many ways, you marked the beginning of my world. Constance, dear sister, so aptly named, thank you for the friendship of a lifetime that began with two little Neanderthals sheltering in a cave carved from the Rock–our little tribe has withstood the test of time. Dear Eli and Bea, you’ve rocked my world since the day you were born, my stronghold of comfort and joy.  Rock stars, every one.

All images and words c2012 Naomi Baltuck

A MERRY LITERARY CHRISTMAS

A Merry Literary Christmas

by Alice Lowe

When Christmas shopping time draws nigh…

And I am faced with gifts to buy…

I think about one relative

Who always had one gift to give.

And every year her present came.

And every year it was the same.

While other gifts were round and fat,

(Their secrets hidden) hers was flat.

Rectangular, the corners square,

I knew exactly what was there.

I’d pass it by without a look—

My aunt had sent another book!

I’d only open it to write

A “thank you” that was too polite,

But every year when Christmas went

I’d read the book my aunt had sent,

 

And looking back, I realize

Each gift was treasure in disguise.

So now it’s time to write her here

A thank-you note that is sincere.

So—thanks for Alice and Sara Crewe,

For Christopher Robin and Piglet and Pooh,

For Little Nell and William Tell…

And Peter and Wendy and Tinker Bell.

Thanks for Tom and Jim and Huck,

For Robinson Crusoe and Dab-Dab the duck,

For Meg and Jo and Johnny Crow

And Papa Geppeto’s Pinocchio

For Mary Poppins and Rat and Toad

King Arthur and Dorothy’s Yellow Brick Road,

For Kipling’s Kim and tales from Grimm,

And Ferdinand, Babar and Tiny Tim.

I loved them all, I’m glad I met them.

They’re with me still, I won’t forget them.

So I’ll give books on Christmas Day

Though I know what all my nieces say–

I know it from the way they write

A “thank-you” that is too polite.

 

A Merry Literary Christmas©Alice Lowe

Images ©2016Naomi Baltuck

A Peace of My Mind

Last September my son Eli and I went on a road trip to deliver my daughter Bea, an incoming freshman, to Stanford University.

Then all of a sudden Bea was at school…

…and Eli and I were back in the van for the long drive home.

For our trip down, we’d booked nice hotels in advance.  It was all about our last hurrah before saying goodbye to Bea. Maybe because we didn’t want to think about returning without her, we forgot to plan the trip home.  We were unprepared, disorganized, and we both kept looking around for Bea.

It was after midnight when we pulled into Redding, CA.

We found a place that was simple, but clean, and woke refreshed and ready to move on–from Redding, and from Stanford.  We were going to write ourselves a new story.

We explored a delightfully shabby gold rush town, browsed its antique stores, and bought some dusty old tomes.  Back on the road, Eli read aloud from  The Last of the Plainsmen, Zane Grey’s 1908 memoir about the end of an era and the start of a new one.

Perhaps inspired by Grey, Eli suggested swinging by Crater Lake National Park.  It was out of our way, and we didn’t even know how far, because we hadn’t brought a proper map.  We hadn’t been there since the kids were young enough to earn their Junior Ranger Badges.  I recalled Crater Lake as a one trick pony, with one view of a lake, gorgeous, but unaccessible.  If we couldn’t get there before dark, the trip would be pointless.

It was a gamble.

We decided to go for it.  We had a few ‘Where are we going, Carl?’ moments.  Like at a crossroads, where two roads both had signage pointing to Crater Lake. The sun was sinking, and we couldn’t afford to get lost.  I kicked myself for not stopping earlier for directions.  This was a remote wilderness, late in the day and late in the season, without even another car to flag down.

Do you believe in spirit helpers?   I took this handsome creature’s greeting as positive reinforcement.

Upon leaving the endless forest to begin our ascent.  Whatever happened, the view on the way to the crater was worth the drive.

At last we arrived at the crater rim, with sunshine to spare, but not for long.

As the sun sank behind us, the shadows crept up the side of Wizard Island, until it looked like it was wearing a little sun hat.

While we looked down on shadow, on the far side of the crater, the sun still shone.

Our goal was to visit as many viewpoints as possible before we lost the light.

Crater Lake was not a one trick pony.  It was a Horse of a Different Color.  With the constantly changing light, the landscape changed dramatically too.

Each view highlighted different sights and inspired different insights.

Whether looking from a distance…

…or close up.

We were alone on the top of the world, awestruck by the beauty surrounding us, not just of the lake, but the valley as well.

Eli captured the detail of an alpine meadow in this shot….

…while I borrowed back the camera to capture the big picture.

Feverishly, we passed the camera back and forth.  Where one of us recognized the stark beauty of an outcrop…

…the other saw a sleeping lady, turned to stone by an evil wizard.

Eli and I discovered our new superpower…

We had learned to spin straw into gold.

Golden moments.

Golden Memories.

Peace of mind.

All words and images copyright Naomi Baltuck

The Mistery of Life

One of the most breathtaking places I’ve ever been is Switzerland, and not just because of the high altitude.

How can someplace be so wild and rugged…

…and yet so tidy and tame and settled?

You can take an escalator to the top of the mountain…

…and just when you think you’re alone in the most remote place in the world…

…you stumble upon a chalet where you can buy a cup of Ovaltine.

Or you hear cowbells and realize you are not alone after all.

When you’re looking straight up at the sky, where no mountain ought to be–surprise!–you realize it’s just playing peek-a-boo from behind the clouds.

We went for a hike, but the landscape seemed so domestic that we felt we should really call it  a stroll.

We stopped to make a friend or two along the way.

And belted out the words to The Sound of Music because…why not?

Unlike the deliberate and well-defined cable car ride up to our little village, there was no clear threshold, no magic doorway from domestic to wild.  The landscape changed so gradually we hardly noticed.

No cowbells here.

And then a shroud of mist descended so swiftly.

The path was obscured and maps were useless.

We couldn’t see the landmarks described in the guidebook. It would soon be dark.  We had no choice but to put one foot ahead of the other…

…keep walking and enjoy the mystery and adventure…

…and trust that sooner or later we would get where we were going.

That’s life.

All images and words copyright Naomi Baltuck.

Lullabye

In Ireland, the ocean is everywhere.

Sometimes hiding in the mist…

History hangs heavy in the ocean air, like breath moistened by a story.

In rough weather…

Or calm…

Whether watching intently…

Or only vaguely aware of it…

You can still smell the salt in the air…like a ghost.

You can feel it like a heartbeat…

And hear it like a lullabye…

Copyright 2012 Naomi Baltuck

Birds of a Feather

Birds of Peru—so many species, so many eco systems.  This little tyke was swimming with its mom on Lake Titicaca, the world’s highest navigable lake.

The Uros people construct and live on Floating Islands of the lake, and might’ve taken their cue from the birds.

The Uros domesticated the Ibis for its eggs–they live side by side.

In the Amazon jungle, villagers living along tributaries of the Amazon River raise chickens for eggs and meat.

Other birds, like Manolo the Mealy Parrot, are kept for pets….

…and watchbirds. (Don’t even think of touching his bread.)

They wander in and out of the houses like family.

We also saw a huge variety of birds living wild in the jungle, such as the Tiger Heron.

I believe this is a Social Flycatcher.  Maybe it just eats flies at parties?

Some birds I caught only a glimpse of on the fly.

Others looked familiar, like this Pygmy Owl.

Or this Kingfisher.  The Kingfishers fly so fast I could only get an image at night, when it was roosting.

Or this White-winged Swallow, which was different but similar to our swallows.

Most of the birds’ names I never knew or have forgotten, but they were fascinating.

This one looked like a lone hunter…

…while the vultures tended to hang in a crowd.

If we have birds in the U.S. that come out at night and sit on the beach looking like, well, a beach, I haven’t heard of them.

A Black-fronted Nunbird?  The coloring is right, but the beak is smaller and it’s so fluffy.  Maybe a chick?  Oh, well, a bird by any name would sing as sweet.

The birds in the Peruvian Andes were different than the ones we saw in the Amazon.

I saw this feathered friend at Machu Picchu.

This one too.  It’s not so different from the hummingbirds that sip nectar from the hanging baskets on my deck.  

But some are very different from the birds we have at home–like the Toucan who was natural history before I could get to my camera, or the Night Heron whose portrait came out fuzzy.  Most unique was the Huatzin, a pheasant-sized bird resembling something out of  prehistoric times.  Its face is blue and unfeathered, its crest large and spiky.  It makes its home in the swamps and marshy lakes in the jungle.

A crop is an enlarged pouch of the esophagus, where food is stored before it is digested.  Some birds have them, and some dinosaurs did too.  But the Huaztin’s crop is so large it makes flying difficult.  It uses its crop to digest food using bacterial fermentation, which makes them smell very bad.  The Amazon people call them ‘Stinkbirds’ and won’t eat them.   They croak, hiss, groan, and grunt.  Huatzin young have claws on their wings.  When pursued by hawks or arboreal predators, they drop from their nest into the water and claw their way back up the tree when it is safe.  Strange and fascinating!

I don’t see anything common about a bird, even the ones found in my own backyard.  Descended from dinosaurs, these feathered creatures are miraculous to me–so varied, so delicate, so powerful, most possessed of the gift of song and the superpower of flight.  All I need is a pair of binoculars and a camera, and I am off on a flight of fancy.


All images and words copyright 2013 Naomi Baltuck

Monkey See, Monkey Do

Do you know what this is?

It’s a monkey trap from West Africa, made of clay.  When I acquired the clay pot, a rope was attached to its neck.  Hunters used to stake the other end of the rope to the ground, and bait it with fruit or nuts.  A monkey would smell the food, reach inside, and grab a handful.

The hole was large enough for a monkey’s open hand to pass through, but too small for a balled fist to come out.  As hard as the monkey pulled, it couldn’t escape, because it never occurred to the greedy monkey to let go of the food.

 

Monkeys repeatedly fell victim to this, because they refused to drop the food, even as the hunter approached.

This is often told as a parable denouncing greed, or as a cautionary tale about becoming trapped by a fixed mindset.  But the antique dealer who sold me my monkey trap told me the rest of the story…

In the late 1940s, a monkey was caught in a clay monkey trap, like so many before it.  It struggled to free itself, never thinking to open its fist.  On purpose or by accident, it smashed the pot against the ground, the pot broke, and the monkey escaped.  But here’s the best part…That monkey taught the other monkeys in its troop how to break and escape from a monkey trap. Neighboring troops caught on until, at least in that part of the monkey world, the traps became obsolete.

Imagine a world where we teach our young, our neighbors, and the greater community what they need to survive and thrive. Imagine a world where we open our tight fists and our closed minds and stop doing things just because that’s the way it has always been done.  Imagine smashing the status quo to leave the world a better place for our children, a place where the powerful and oppressive are outwitted, outnumbered, and they and all their ugly trappings become obsolete.

  If one little monkey can change the world, maybe there’s hope for us humans too.

  All images and words ©Naomi Baltuck.

Back Down to Earth

There is freedom in cutting loose one’s bonds to float high above the rest of the world.

To be quiet, and alone in one’s thoughts.

It is a space and place that I do sometimes share.

Just when I find myself adjusting to the elevation…

…and the solitude.

Just when I start feeling too comfortable, too removed…

…I feel a tug on the heartstrings that brings me back down to earth.

Sometimes it’s as simple as discovering on my front walk a baby bird that needs to be returned to its nest.

More often it is my own baby birds, coming home to roost.

Even just for a little while.

All words and images c2014 Naomi Baltuck.

Magnam Opus

To me, there nothing so sacred an office as parenthood.

But with every superpower, comes the great weight of responsibility.

Helping someone get from here…

…to here.

It’s the most daunting…

…most joyful…

..most challenging position I’ve ever held.

The job description is clear.  When they are tiny, love them.

Nurture them.

Love them some more.

We have a few short years to raise and guide them, and allow them to find their own way to shine.

To help them acquire the skills they need to paddle their own canoe.

To allow them to test their wings.

To give them every opportunity to make decisions and exercise their own power.

Even so, one of the greatest challenges we have as parents is to let them grow up.

A few years ago, with the kids’ encouragement, we stepped out of our comfort zone into the Amazon jungle.

To ride a zip-line over the jungle canopy we had to reach a platform 125 feet above the jungle floor.  Instead of letting our guide use pulleys and ropes to haul them up, they insisted on pulling themselves up, step by step.

As they dangled from a single rope a hundred feet up, I thought of the book Charlotte’s Web.  Charlotte considered her egg sac, from which her babies hatched, her ‘magnum opus.’  One by one, the baby spiders spun a fine web into a tiny balloon and rode the breeze, floating off into the world to land somewhere and build a web of its own.

I couldn’t have been prouder–or more relieved–when they climbed to the top under their own power.

We have all traveled well together…

but children must be free to choose their own direction, just as we did when we were young.

I quell my panic when one of my chicks…

..leaves the safety of the home harbor.

I trust them to stay calm, exercise good judgement, weather the storms…

…and any other unforeseen dangers.

We cut them loose from the mother ship, then hope and pray they find a soft landing place…

…and a bright future.

And that, every now and then, they remember to phone home.

All words and images ©2015NaomiBaltuck

Pondering

 

I snapped this photo in my Cousin Nancy’s backyard.  We couldn’t have arranged a nicer outing.  Her husband Ian played folk music on his guitar.

Tallie, her little Papillon, and our favorite little fur person, played fetch with the kids.

 

Then we all roasted marshmallows for s’mores in their fire pit.

 

Creating a lovely backdrop for us was this fascinating arrangement for firewood that I found so pleasing to the eye.

I did pause to wonder how the tree might have felt about the arrangement. Did it feel supported and held up by the spirits of its ancestors, or was it made nervous at the thought of suffering a similar fate? Am I the only one who thinks about these things?

All words and images c2014NaomiBaltuck

The Same Boat

Last summer the Seattle Theater Group treated its season ticket holders to a champagne lunch aboard a Holland America cruise ship.

The closest we’d come to a cruise was a day trip from Helsinki to Talin. Thom dusted off his sports jacket…

…and we went to lunch with our friend Monica.

Looking up…

…down…

…or sideways…

 

…there was unabashed glitz and glamor.

After dessert…

…they turned us loose.

We acquainted ourselves with the pool.

The art.

And the dance floor.

 

The lines…

 

…lights…

…curves…

…and colors were striking.

It was ‘The Titanic…

…meets Blade Runner.’

A place out of time.  A floating island.  Everyone the star of his or her own movie.

Across the harbor it was business as usual.

 

Gritty stories were played out in choppy waters, a world apart from our pampered microcosm.

As we left the parking lot, we drove through a sobering intersection of poverty and privilege.

Having just left a luxurious cruise boat, I thought of the Titanic.  Many historians believe steerage passengers were treated with indifference at best, and that racism and classism was a factor in the dismal survival rates of the poor.  Only 25% of the Third Class passengers survived, while 62% of the First Class passengers did.

One would hope for improvement in the last hundred years, and things did get better–for awhile.

From the 1950s through the 70s, middle class prosperity grew: more people could afford higher education, resulting in better jobs and owning homes. Then Ronald Reagan introduced Trickle Down Economics, claiming that by making the rich richer prosperity would trickle down to the poor, but that just kicked economic inequality into hyperdrive.  Bush’s tax cuts for the rich also made the rich richer, while depriving the nation of income that would prevent the lower and middle classes from slipping further behind.

From 1979-2007,  income of the top 1 percent grew by 275%, while the bottom 80 percent averaged 29%.   From 2009-2012, the top one percent raked in 95% of all income growth in the nation.

Economist Paul Krugman says soaring profits of the one percent are achieved by squeezing those below: cutting wages, slashing benefits, crushing unions.  Elite priorities exert a wildly disproportionate effect on policy, such as slashing social programs for the needy while lowering taxes for corporations and the wealthy.

But there is hope.

 In yesterday’s election, Seattle voted to shut big money out of politics, after having already led the nation in a vote to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour.

I AM SO PROUD OF SEATTLE!

When Abraham Lincoln said America’s representative democracy was of the people, by the people, and for the people, I’m sure he did NOT mean corporations.

We are all in the same boat.  I’m thinking it’s time to bust out the life preservers, and this time, let’s make sure there is one for everyone.

All images and words ©2015 Naomi Baltuck

The Secret Object I Keep Hidden in My Underwear Drawer

 

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Yes, I really do have a secret object hidden in the back of my underwear drawer.

It was in a bag earmarked for the Salvation Army, a tiny doll-sized white cotton undershirt, but I snatched it back from among the outgrown feet pajamas, baby booties, and Alice-in-Wonderland dresses.  Then I tucked it into the back of my underwear drawer.

It isn’t an heirloom or valuable in any way, except to me, because both my kids wore it as fuzzy-headed milk-scented most-beautiful-in-the-world newborns.  Once in awhile it still sees the light of day.  Not on those “hurry-up-or-we’re-going-to-be-late! mornings,” but on quiet afternoons when I’m putting away freshly folded laundry.  I can still smell the baby shampoo and feel the round little tummies that filled that shirt.

Recently I realized that no one in the world would know or care what happened to that little shirt unless…I showed it to my daughter Bea and told her about her first night home from the hospital. She was wearing the little shirt, or one just like it, while lying beside me on the bed to nurse.  By the soft moonlight shining in on us I watched her, filled with awe at the sight of this new person looking up at me like a little old wisewoman.  I marveled at her perfect little toes and her tiny feet and those exquisite fingers.  Just as I was moved to tears at the miracle of life and birth, she reached up with her tiny finger and DOINK! poked me right in the eye. Ever since then, I told Bea, she has kept me from taking myself too seriously.

I told her how four year old Eli rubbed her tummy and told his baby sister all she would need to know to get by in the world. “You only get to drink milk now, but when you’re big you get macaroni and cheese from a fork. You’ll learn to walk and then run, but be careful or you might fall and scrape your knee and bleed, but blood has platelets that make a scab, but don’t pick it or it’ll bleed again…”  What a warm, wise welcome into our family!

On my kitchen wall is a picture Bea drew of a paintbrush and an artist’s pallet.  Underneath she wrote,”Only the artist knows the story of her painting.”  Too true. So tell your stories to your kids, your friends or your enemies, lest they disappear when you do.

Whether you write them into your memoirs, or tell them from your mouth, let them see the light of day, feel the moisture of your breath, live in stark black beauty on a crisp white page.

One day Bea might show that tiny shirt to her children and say, “When I was a baby…” Even if it finds its way to the Salvation Army, she might say, “My mom once saved a tiny white undershirt from the rag pile and kept it in her underwear drawer.  Sometimes she took it out, and told me stories about when I was a baby…”

All words and images copyright 2014 Naomi Baltuck

(Except “Mrs. Bradley Ripley Alden and Her Children” painted by Robert Walter Weir, 1852)

Turning Night Into Day

There was once a wise old rabbi who asked his students, “How can you know the exact moment when night ends and day begins?”

“I think I know,” said one of his pupils.  “Is it when, from a great distance, you can tell a dog from a sheep?”

“No,” said the rabbi.

“I know,” said another.  “It must be when, from a distance, you can tell a date palm from a fig tree.”

“No,” said the rabbi.

His students looked at each other and then at the rabbi.  “We don’t know,” they said.  “Please tell us.”

And the rabbi replied, “It is when you look into the face of any person from any nation…

…man…

…or woman…

…Jew or gentile…

…and see your brother…

…or your sister.”

”And that is the blessed moment,” said the rabbi,  “when the dawn is come.”

c2014 words and photographs NaomiBaltuck

Two Subjects (and one important thing to remember)

While traveling in Argentina, we visited La Recoleta Cemetery in Buenos Aires.   Since 1822, nearly 5,000 mausoleums have been constructed  in the highest fashion of the times, from Baroque and Neo-Gothic to Art Deco and Art Nouveau.   La Recoleta is a city for the dead, with elegant marble tombs neatly laid out in blocks over fourteen acres.

Some are maintained, for love or pride.  Others, like the poet Shelley’s statue of Ozymandias, have fallen into disrepair, covered with spider webs and graffiti, littered with broken glass and faded plastic flowers.  Feral cats stare warily from their marble perches and skulk away sideways if approached.

We saw the grave of Eva Peron, and other statesmen, poets, generals, and presidents.

More interesting to me was the final resting place for a mother and her infant.  They were not famous, but clearly they were loved.  Did she and the child die in childbirth or perhaps swept away by an epidemic?  In any case, a grieving husband and father was left behind to erect this memorial.   Was he able to pick up the pieces of his broken life to find happiness again?

Wherever we go, we will find reminders of all the stories in this world that will never be told.  When I photographed this memorial, I could be certain of only two things.  Both mother and child were subject to an early and tragic demise.  And, as seen by the lush green fern sprouting from the dust collecting in the cracks in the stone, life goes on.

All images and words copyright Naomi Baltuck

Out In the World

Forgive my absence from the blogosphere, friends.  I have been out in the world.

Of all the stories of our recent travels that come to mind, one stands out.  In Sighosora, Romania…

…we stayed in the Old Town.

In the passage to the courtyard we found a nest, with two baby birds huddled nearby.

There had been a fierce windstorm the previous night that had blown the nest from its nook in the wall, our Romanian host told us when delivering the key to our flat.  My husband Thom replaced the nest, but when he tried to return the birds to the nest….

…he discovered two of their legs were tightly bound together by a long blond hair–nesting material gone terribly wrong.

We had a knife, our tiny blunt-nosed travel scissors, and a larger pair of scissors scrounged from the kitchen.  Thom and our son Eli hoped to separate the birds with a quick snip.  But the hair had been there for a long time, the legs were swollen around it, and every effort set the birds fluttering in a panic, which we feared would cause further damage.  Our host wished us good luck, and left for work.

We felt helpless.  We were there for only one night.  To whom could we hand off these birds? We could return them to the nest and let nature take its course–a slow and painful death by starvation, if not infection.  Or should we put them out of their misery?  The only other possible solution was harsh.  If we did nothing, both birds would surely die.  By amputating one leg, one bird would likely die, but the other might have a fighting chance.  One delicate leg was unresponsive to the touch, probably already broken.  Eli braced himself and severed the mangled leg, cutting through the hair.  Immediately both birds were free and fluttered off.

The one-legged bird landed on the ground nearby.

The stronger one fluttered all the way to the far side of the courtyard.

We heard a cackling overhead.  Even without the family resemblance, we recognized an anxious mother, calling to her babies from the rooftop.  We felt a glimmer of hope–their mother might yet take them back under her wing!

But our presence made her nervous, so we watched from inside, then left to explore the area.

By suppertime, the stronger bird had flown up to a perch in the courtyard…

…high enough to be safe from hungry cats.

The other remained quietly earthbound, suffering in silence.  We wondered what the morning would bring.

The next day, the stronger of the two was gone, as was its mother.  The injured bird remained, probably abandoned as a lost cause by its family.  We checked back only moments later to discover the one-legged bird was now gone as well, without a trace.  In a laundry room off the courtyard were two domestic workers.  Could they have removed the bird like a piece of litter?  Or perhaps a crow had carried it off to feed to its babies.

Out in the world, we often catch glimpses of a story, or a life.  Sometimes they are as sweet as a single drop of honey.

Others are stories of sorrow and want.

Too many will be lived out in the shadows in quiet desperation.

As with the baby birds, sometimes we are helpless to help, sometimes we can offer only a bandaid, and most times we will never know how the story ends.

What makes the difference between a happy ending and a tragedy?  Is it survival of the fittest?  An accident of birth?  An ill wind, perhaps.  But sometimes it falls into our power to make a difference.  When that happens, even for one tiny being, it can make all the difference in the world.

All images and words copyright 2015 Naomi Baltuck.

The Seeds of Creativity

When my daughter Bea was a little girl, she found a seed in a seedless Satsuma, and was inspired to plant it in a paper cup.  Our little Satsuma tree has lived on our kitchen windowsill for years now, a reminder that unexpected marvels can come from a single seed.  Creativity is a seed that grows ideas.

It helps us to see beauty in the ordinary.

Or, upon reflection, to take the ordinary and transform it.

Sometimes inspiration comes to us in a flood.


Sometimes in a flash.

Or even in hindsight.

More often,  it comes in disguise.

Or as a creative response to something we feel passionate about.

Perhaps we are inspired by another artist…as in Bea’s sculpture, The Ice Scream.

I love working with a creative team…

Sometimes it’s a process.

…but the end result is worth it.

However it comes to you, wherever you find your inspiration, you are never too young…


Or too old….


To fly with it!

May all your ideas and inspirations be fruitful!

Copyright 2012 words and photographs, Naomi Baltuck.

Mine (yours, ours)

My child…my world…

My wish is for her to grow up in a world where people are judged for who they are, and not by the color of their skin, not for who they love, who they worship, by their gender, or the size of their bank account.  My wish is for this world to become our world, where ‘live and let live’ is only the starting point, and where my children, your children, all children become ‘ours’ to educate, to heal, to care for so they are prepared and able to help make our world a better place.

And because it’s the right thing to do.

 That is my wish.

All words and images c2012 Naomi Baltuck

The Inside Story

When my daughter Bea was studying at the Yiddish Book Center in Massachusetts, I went to  visit her.  We zipped down the turnpike to Old Sturbridge Village.

The village is a living museum including 59 restored buildings, a working farm and water-powered mills.  There were craftsmen…

…artisans…

…tradesmen…

 …and re-enactors.

We were invited to look through a window in time…

We saw village life as it was lived between the 1790s and the 1830s.

I enjoyed the opportunity to see the old buildings from the inside out.

 Everywhere we went there were whispers, hinting at the inside story.

Upon reflection, one thing was clear…


Just as we do today,  those people worked hard…

…fell in love…or not…

…cherished their children…

…and valued their friends.

Some things never change.

All images and words copyright Naomi Baltuck

To See the World

 

“To see a World in a Grain of Sand
And a Heaven in a Wild Flower…”

       –William Blake, Auguries of Innocence

 

…or in one click of a camera.

One picture is worth a thousand words.  Some pictures lay out the facts, like a road map.

But others have all the elements of a great novel, crammed into one quick snap.

Danger…

Mystery…

Character…

 Adventure…

Desperation…

Romance…

Greater purpose…

For me, the best stories raise questions as well as give answers.

 

They present universal dilemmas, and show us how people learn to cope with trauma or loss.

A disaster becomes a compelling tragedy, although the victims lived two thousand years ago, if we can relate to their suffering.  And who can’t?

We like to tie up our stories in neatly arranged ribbons and give them happy endings.  Who doesn’t love a happy ending?

But that’s not always possible.  Perhaps the best stories–and photographs–just remind us of what it is to be human.

All words and images copyright Naomi Baltuck.

Survival Stories

While exploring Etruscan tombs in Tuscany, my sister Constance and I stumbled upon the ancient hilltop town of Pitigliano.

 

We saw many other lovely towns…

…and picturesque villages.

But I loved this place like nowhere else in Italy.  Its story was the key to my heart.  Pitigliano had provided a rare refuge for Jews driven from Spain during the Inquisition. After the Pope and the Medicis forced Pitigliano’s Jews into the ghetto in 1600, they still accounted for twenty percent of the population.  After the war and the Holocaust, a small handful returned to care for the synagogue and to tell the story.

How small?” I asked a local. She shrugged. “Maybe five.”

The Jewish bakery was closed for the Sabbath, and the synagogue was closed because there weren’t enough Jews for a minyan.

But a shop sold matzoh and a confection called Sfratto, the Italian word for eviction.  Sfratto has a filling of honey, walnuts, and oranges, baked into a smooth-crusted loaf shaped like a police baton.   It was invented by the Jews of Pitigliano to commemorate their eviction from their homes and into the ghetto by officers using sticks to beat on their doors.  Four hundred years later, they’re still telling the story, and we’re still eating it up.

In a narrow alley across from the synagogue, I shivered to hear the haunting strains of a lone Klezmer violin drifting down from a second story window.  At first I thought it was a recording, until the music trailed off.  It had to have been played by human, or perhaps ghostly hands.

Nearby was a doorstep decked with flowers as colorful as the town’s history.  Two cats curled up in a big flowerpot, one cat a black and white mix, the other all black, but I was an English major, and I saw them as symbols of the concrete world of black and white, living in harmony with the fluid world of shadow and story.  The scene was framed by dark medieval walls backlit by the sunny valley, while the valley was alive with vineyards and olive trees…

…yet riddled with ancient tombs.


The paradox seemed to capture the essence of Pitigliano, and of all Italy.  But before I could capture it on film, the cats bolted, and I lost the moment.  Or so I thought.  That night in our apartment in Orvieto, Constance painted…

…while I wrote about Pitigliano.  I loved it for its unique history, for providing refuge when so few others would, for its tiny but stalwart population of Jews determined to protect a precious legacy, for the stories and ghosts that linger in every back alley.

Then Constance showed me her painting.  Alive with color, it conjured the fragrance of honey and walnut, the haunting strains of a lone violin. And there were my cats, just as I remembered them, a perfect balance of black and white, and shadow.

It was reassuring.  In arts or in letters, by word of mouth, or in the guise of a Jewish confection, so long as there is someone left to tell it and someone willing to listen, the story will survive.

All words and images copyright Naomi Baltuck

Back Down to Earth

There is freedom in cutting loose one’s bonds to float high above the rest of the world.

To be quiet, and alone in one’s thoughts.

It is a space and place that I do sometimes share.

Just when I find myself adjusting to the elevation…

…and the solitude…

Just when I start feeling too comfortable, too removed…

…I feel a tug on the heartstrings that brings me back down to earth.

Sometimes it’s as simple as discovering on my front walk a baby bird that needs to be returned to its nest.

More often it is my own baby birds, coming home to roost.

Even just for a little while.

All words and images c2014 Naomi Baltuck.

 

“Not everything that can be counted counts!” … on the importance of the Liberal Arts

It is the supreme art of the teacher to awaken joy in creative expression and knowledge.

“If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales. If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales.”

As an enormous lover of fairy tales and a believer in Tolkien’s proposition that they are not written “for children,” I was, of course, instantly gladdened by these words, but also peeved by the broken chain of proper attribution. After diligent digging through various archives, I found the earliest reference to this in an out-of-print volume published by the Montana State Library for Book Week in November of 1958*. The entry, a second-hand account at best, reads:

In the current New Mexico Library Bulletin, Elizabeth Margulis tells a story of a woman who was a personal friend of the late dean of scientists, Dr. Albert Einstein. Motivated partly by her admiration for him, she held hopes that her son might become a scientist. One day she asked Dr. Einstein’s advice about the kind of reading that would best prepare the child for this career. To her surprise, the scientist recommended ‘Fairy tales and more fairy tales.’ The mother protested that she was really serious about this and she wanted a serious answer; but Dr. Einstein persisted, adding that creative imagination is the essential element in the intellectual equipment of the true scientist, and that fairy tales are the childhood stimulus to this quality.

Folklorist and literary scholar Jack Zipes further transforms Einstein’s alleged aphorism in into a charming short fable in the introduction to his 1979 book Breaking the Magic Spell: Radical Theories of Folk and Fairy Tales:

Once upon a time the famous physicist Albert Einstein was confronted by an overly concerned woman who sought advice on how to raise her small son to become a successful scientist. In particular she wanted to know what kinds of books she should read to her son.

“Fairy Tales,” Einstein responded without hesitation.

“Fine, but what else should I read to him after that?” the mother asked.

“More fairy tales,” Einstein stated.

“And after that?”

“Even more fairy tales,” replied the great scientist, and he waved his pipe like a wizard pronouncing a happy end to a long adventure.

While we might never know the full, accurate details for Einstein’s fairy-tale adage, embedded in it is something the celebrated physicist felt very strongly about: the importance of the liberal arts and humanities in education. The preface to Dear Professor Einstein: Albert Einstein’s Letters to and from Children (public library | IndieBound) — the same impossibly endearing volume that gave us his encouraging advice to a little girl who wanted to be a scientist and his answer to child who asked whether scientists pray — features the following autobiographical reflection by Einstein:

This school with its liberal spirit and teachers with a simple earnestness that did not rely on any external authority, made an unforgettable impression on me. In comparing it with six years schooling at an authoritarian German Gymnasium, I was made acutely aware how far superior an education that stresses independent action and personal responsibility is to one that relies on drill, external authority and ambition.

Read more at http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/authors/a/albert_einstein.html#HE4c4qh3ReEtrspY.99

Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted.

Albert Einstein

Read more at http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/authors/a/albert_einstein_3.html#PkWGhHDI1zyjDe5Q.99



– Naomi Baltuck

© 2015, words and photographs, Naomi Baltuck, All rights reserved

The Flight of the Sparrow

Last summer I saw a baby Stellar Jay perched on my arbor, resting after trying out its wings. I looked away for an instant; when I looked back, it was gone.

It reminded me of something The Venerable Bede once said.  Bede was an Anglo-Saxon monk born in 672A.D.

In  The Ecclesiastical History of the English People he compares a person’s life to the flight of a sparrow.  Imagine sitting in a mead-hall at supper by the light of a blazing fire, while outside a winter storm rages.

A sparrow flies in one door of the hall, into the light, then darts out out another door, back into the cold dark night.  “So our lives appear for a short space,” said Bede, “but of what went before, or what is to follow, we are utterly ignorant.”

People have many different thoughts, feelings, beliefs and explanations as to what or if anything comes before…

…or after the sparrow’s flight.

Sooner or later each of us will fly out into the night.

That seems to be the only thing everyone can agree upon.

I don’t need to know all the answers before I fly back out.

I am right here, right now, basking in the warm and beautiful light of life.

Whatever happens outside the mead-hall won’t change the way I live my life here and now.

I have work I am passionate about…

..family I love and good friends to play with.

I care about issues in the wider world…

…and in my own little sphere.

I hope I can make some small difference…as a writer, a storyteller, a parent, a friend…

…and to leave even just a little nightlight shining…

…when my flight is done.
nullAll words and images copyright Naomi Baltuck

Depth Perception: 70th Anniversary of the Liberation of Auschwitz

Last Tuesday we went downtown to attend a concert at Benaroya Hall, commemorating the 70th Anniversary of the Liberation of Auschwitz.

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The performance was called Art From Ashes, and was produced by Music of Remembrance.

I had mixed feelings about going.

It was a wet cold day in Seattle.

The city seemed dirty.

…And sad.

It would be heartbreaking to listen to works by Jewish composers whose lives and legacies were cut short at the death camps of Auschwitz and Dachau.

But the music proved more poignant than heartbreaking.

These doomed artists plumbed the depths of their despair, gleaned beauty from their cruel twisted world, and imbued their swan songs with love and longing.

Each note, each word a parting glance, a declaration of love, a prayer…

“…Tearfully stolen from the distant west, a gentle pink ray on the thin twigs, settling its quiet kiss on tiny leaves..”

As Jake Heggie wrote in his song Farewell, Auschwitz, they cast off their striped clothes and held their shaved heads high.  “The song of freedom upon our lips will never, never die.”

Ashamed and bewildered by the depths of depravity to which humankind has too often sunk, I also felt a fierce pride for its passion and courage and tenacious love of life that can raise art from the ashes.

Copyright 2015 Naomi Baltuck

Drive-by Shooting in Detroit

 

I was born in The Motor City.   I graduated from U of M, and headed West to seek my fortune. I’ve lived in Seattle for over thirty years.  It was love at first sight, it’s the home of my heart, and where my children were born…

 

…but I still feel unexpected tugs on my Midwestern roots.

Detroit is where my parents and grandparents are buried.

In French ‘Detroit’ means ‘channel or strait connecting two bodies of water.’  That would be the Detroit River that connects Lake Erie and Lake Huron.

That would also be my Aunt Loena,  who connects me to my mother–through memories, blood ties, and love.  Last spring I returned to the river that spawned me.

My Aunt Loena and sister Lee are always ready for a visit.

We did a drive-by shooting of the old neighborhood…with a camera.  We took shots of the little house I grew up in.

Many other houses were already pretty well shot.

Across from  Newton School, a woman kept cranky geese in her yard, but the geese were long gone, and so was the house.


My high school was for sale.  It was named for Thomas M. Cooley ( 1824-1898), a local boy done good.  He started out with a small law business and ended up on the Michigan Supreme Court.  In The Cooley Doctrine, he wrote “local government is a matter of absolute right; and the state cannot…take it away.”  Cooley must be spinning in his grave since Michigan’s Republican Governor Rick Snyder gave himself the power to take over cities, remove locally elected officials, install puppet governments, and destroy labor unions.  Not in Russia.  Not in North Korea.  This is happening in the United States of America.

Yes, there are financial woes: the economy and tax base of the area were dependent upon the auto industry.  Highland Park, a town engulfed by Detroit, fought to stay independent despite the bigger city’s efforts to incorporate it.  Ford closed its Highland Park factory in the 1950s and Chrysler pulled out in 1993.  The population, once over 45,000, has decreased to 11,000.  Now it’s ‘The Detroit of Detroit’, so poor Detroit doesn’t even want it anymore. My grandparents’ Highland Park house was gone.  So was the school across the street.


If not for this sign, I wouldn’t have known Highland Park still existed.

But there must be better ways than total dictatorship to save the city.  We went to Belle Isle, an island park in the Detroit River, halfway between Canada and the United States.  It became a city park in 1904, and in 2014 it became a state park to avoid operation costs to the city.

 There used to be an elephant house, a bandstand, and a boathouse.  I learned to canoe in its waterways.

Honey Buckets are probably cheaper to maintain than the elegant brick restrooms…

…a compromise so the park might be used and enjoyed.

There was still beauty.

And history.

The Belle Isle Aquarium was built in 1904.  As kids we watched the electric eel touch an underwater wire in its tank to light up electric light bulbs.  It was the longest continually operating aquarium until 2005 when, after 101 years, it closed its doors due to lack of funding.

But in 2012 the aquarium was reopened–Saturdays only–and is run completely by volunteers from the Belle Isle Conservancy.  Admission free.

 

Next door is the Whitcomb Conservatory.

My folks used to turn seven kids loose in there; we played Tarzan, and our Johnny Weissmuller jungle calls bounced off that glass ceiling.

At the Detroit Institute of Art we found culture, art, and history.

 photo 14ceae3b-e762-40d1-b045-89c23581fdc4_zps21d717ba.jpg

As kids we loved the shiny suits of armor in the great hall.

As adults, we admired the Diego Rivera mural, a powerful statement about Detroit Industries.  In 1932 it was scandalous that workers with black, white, and brown skin were depicted working side by side. Members of religious communities thought it blasphemous, and called for it to be destroyed.   But Edsel Ford, who paid the bill, said he thought Rivera captured the Spirit of Detroit.

“Watson and the Shark,” my favorite painting from childhood visits to the museum, told a true story.  Copley portrayed a multiracial crew rescuing their shipmate from a shark.  Painted in 1777, a time of revolution against tyranny, artists began to depict common people as heroes. At least in Michigan, where the sharks are still circling, it is still a relevant message.

 

I was saddened to read so many hateful bigoted comments when researching this sculpture honoring Detroit boxer Joe Lewis.

In Detroit there was and is despair and poverty, racism and anger.

But I also saw positive action, innovative ideas for bringing life and art back into the city.  Are you a writer?  Want a free house?   Check out Write-a-House.  This organization buys abandoned houses, renovates them, and gives them to artists willing to come live in them, practice their art, enrich their community.  There are pea patches growing where, on my last visit, I saw burned out houses.

L-O-O-K.

The Spirit of Detroit is still strong.

In its past, present, and its future…

…I saw soul.

And hope.

 

Sweetness.

Pride.

I saw the future in a city park, where kids were playing.

 At the conservatory I saw cactus blooming in the desert, a public park taken over by volunteers who made it available to the public.

I saw open hearts.

In the most unexpected places.

 Detroit still has plenty of room to grow, room for hope.

Please watch this two minute video for another look at Detroit. 

 All words and images copyright Naomi Baltuck

Turning Night Into Day

There was once a wise old rabbi who asked his students, “How can you know the exact moment when night ends and day begins?”

“I think I know,” said one of his pupils.  “Is it when, from a great distance, you can tell a dog from a sheep?”

“No,” said the rabbi.

“I know,” said another.  “It must be when, from a distance, you can tell a date palm from a fig tree.”

“No,” said the rabbi.

His students looked at each other and then at the rabbi.  “We don’t know,” they said.  “Please tell us.”

And the rabbi replied, “It is when you look into the face of any person from any nation…

…man…

…or woman…

…Jew or gentile…

…and see your brother…

…or your sister.”

”And that is the blessed moment,” said the rabbi,  “when the dawn is come.”

c2014 NaomiBaltuck

Special Delivery

Yesterday a package arrived from Australia.  My sister was moving and there was no place in her new home for our mother’s silver tea set–the one Mom kept on her buffet in her little house in Detroit.  My sister could’ve easily packed it off to a thrift store or sold it at a garage sale. Instead she kindly chose to pay postage to send it all the way to America to reunite the silver service with mom’s old buffet, which now lives in the dining room of my home in Seattle.

Three days ago I put my son on a plane to Turkey, where he will teach English for the next three years.  I can fret, or be proud of him for having the courage to make such a momentous move.

His sister Bea was scheduled to come home from her program in Lithuania two days after Eli’s departure. Unfortunately they would miss each other, but Eli turned it into an opportunity.  In the wee hours of the night before he left, we hauled a little surprise for Bea up from the basement.  Eli hoped she’d like it even better than the last surprise he left her.

It was the perfect way to present Bea with motion-activated cooing tribble slippers she hadn’t even known she needed.

Still, it lacked a certain ‘Je ne sais crois.’

Actually, Eli knew exactly what it needed.

…And then he added the finishing touch.

Packing done, boarding pass printed, and still enough time to play one last game of Pandemic and save the world before our trip to the airport!

On the way we brainstormed how and when to visit, just as I used to do with my mom before each parting. And nowadays we can even Skype in the meantime.

My mom taught her kids to look for the bright spots. She could find ’em where you wouldn’t have thought there was one.

After Mom’s first chemo session, my sister Constance and I suggested going home to rest. Mom said, “The doctor says it won’t hit me until tonight. We’re going to Sanders Ice Cream Parlor. If I have to get sick, I’m going to throw up ice cream.”

 

Bea arrived two days after Eli left.  His parting gift was appreciated (up to a point). Now it resides in his room, scaring the heck out of me and making me laugh every time I go in there to open the blinds.

Bea, unpacking the heirloom tea set, said, “We’re going to have a MONSTER Tea Party!” There was another unexpected gift from Auntie Down Under–an uber-protective full-body swimsuit. Bea ran to try it on. Like Clark Kent bursting from a phone booth in Superman duds, out of Bea’s room flew Doing-Things-That-Aren’t-Fun-But-Are-Good-For-You-Girl.

Doing-Things-That-Aren’t-Fun-But-Are-Good-For-You-Girl (aka The UV Protector) threw Fashion Sense to the wind, and bravely faced the sun and its evil rays–in public.

All our lives we’ve heard,”You gotta break an egg if you want an omelet.” We jump willingly into the fray, enduring, for instance, the red eye flight for the trip to Europe.

My mom used to say, “When you’re holding your baby in your arms, you forget the pain.” Then Mom’s sister lost her baby. So what if there’s no baby to hold? My Aunt Loena would say you have to find others to hold and love, which she did. But some challenges you cannot go around, hire out, or wiggle free from.  It’s the stuff no one else can do for you, even if they wanted to.  It’s the bend in the river of life where there is no turning back and no standing still. Moving forward is all you can do, and your only choice is about how you do that, whether you are five years old or ninety-five, whether it’s getting a tetanus shot or chemotherapy, whether you are saying goodbye for now or forever.

I know and love–and I’m sure you do too–some very dear people who are facing some of life’s most daunting challenges and have been taxed in ways most people can only imagine.  Yet they are getting up and going to work each day and taking their kids to school and playing Werewolves with them at the end of the day with stents in their chest.  Or telling stories to bring joy to their audiences while undergoing months of chemo, and celebrating the last treatment by traveling the great cities Europe.  Or writing Haiku with one hand while learning how to walk again after a stroke. Or surviving cancer to reinvent themselves, leaving a bad marriage and developing a highly successful career as an artist. Or after a hip replacement, beating the odds from sheer determination to progress from wheelchair to walker to cane to standing on their own two feet while receiving radiation for a spot on the lung.

Who ARE these people? They are not the Supermen and Wonder Women of the world; they are the Clark Kents and Diana Princes, who through sheer strength of will and spirit quietly forge on through fire and ice. They are the real superheroes, delivering the right stuff. Their legacies are not the silver tea sets, but the stories they give us to hold in our hearts.

All words and images copyright Naomi Baltuck.

Virgins No More

In 1493 Christopher Columbus visited the chain of islands that he named after St. Ursula and the 11, 000 virgins.

My sister Lee, my friend Kathy, and I were all Virgin Island virgins, having never before set foot upon them.

Until last week.

We flew into St Thomas and took the car ferry over to the island of St. John.

St. John is a US territory, with nearly two thirds of its land set aside as a National Park and wildlife sanctuary.  It was a short drive from our hotel on Cruz Bay…

…to the pristine beaches of the U.S. National Park.

Big blue land crabs made their homes in the muddy floors of the mangrove swamps…

…while tiny red crabs in the tens of thousands sounded like rain on the forest floor when they skittered into hiding.

Pelicans could be seen fishing on every beach.

Iguanas frequented both beaches…

…and grassy areas.

And so many birds!  Dark hummingbirds, yellow songbirds, cranes, egrets, and many others.

Everywhere we saw ruins of a troubled past, where slaves once worked the sugar plantations dotting the island.

Who sat on the tiled veranda of this mansion sipping coffee and enjoying the ocean breeze within sight of the mill, where slaves were forced to stir boiling kettles of sugar syrup in unbearable heat?

At the Annaberg Planation, this windmill processed sugar cane.

It is a relic of a cruel past.

By 1733 slaves outnumbered Europeans 5 to 1.  Harsh laws condoning torture, amputation, and murder were enacted to keep slaves under control, but instead prompted a bloody rebellion.  Slaves rose up and held the island for six months before the French Militia helped the Danes crush the revolt.  Rather than return to slavery, hundreds threw themselves off rugged cliffs into the sea below.

In 1848, when again faced with uprisings, the governor of St. John declared an end to slavery on St. John.

This statue of a slave, sugar cane knife in hand, blowing a conch shell to sound the call to freedom, celebrates hard-won liberty.

Today 78 percent of the population is descended from African slaves.

The Virgin Islands are brimming with color, whether it be in nature’s sphere…

…or made so by human hand.

 It is a place filled with joyful music…

…and lively spirits.

They know how to live down there.

They work hard.

And play hard.

 And take nothing for granted.

All words and images 2014 Naomi Baltuck, unless otherwise stated.

It’s Never Too Late

At our house we celebrate Christmas and Hanukkah, and we also give a nod toward the Solstice.  This year we planned to observe the Solstice with a bonfire, and burn twenty years’ accumulation of tax receipts in our firepit, but it never stopped raining long enough to light a match.

Eli and I told Christmas and Hanukkah stories at the Renton History Museum.  One cannot properly tell stories without feeling the spirit within.  So we were primed for both holidays.

Afterwards we went to Farmer Brown’s Tree Farm to cut our own Christmas tree.

Then we went home to light the menorah.

 We had company this year, long lost cousins of my father, the son of Jewish immigrants from the Ukraine.  June Aptekar Allen Smith and her husband Haskell traveled to Seattle from Texas to celebrate their first Hanukkah ever.

They played dreidel and sang the blessings for the first time, just as June’s ancestors had done for nearly two thousand years.

At 88 and 89, they are still fascinated by the world around them, by history, travel, current events, and the stories of strangers they meet in their every day life.  We reconnected with June and her daughter ten years ago, at an Aptekar family reunion in Tucson.  They introduced us to June’s niece Nancy and her husband Ian, who happened to live right here in Seattle, and who we now love like, well… family.

During this visit, we compared notes and stories about our Aptekar roots, taking into account June and Haskell’s meticulous research, papers and letters from my mother’s attic, my Grandma Rose’s recently rediscovered autobiography among them.  Cousin Bryan drove up from Portland to represent yet another branch on the Aptekar family tree.  We pieced all our snatches and snippets and scraps of information into a more comprehensive family history, from before the pogrom of Odessa in 1905 to my great grandparents’ subsequent immigration through Ellis Island, and on to Detroit.

In 1905, the Aptekar family huddled in the cold and the dark, listening to the screams of horses and the crash of breaking glass.  They lived on the Great Boulevard, where Cossacks charged down the street, burning the businesses and homes of Odessa Jews, killing 800 Jewish men, women and children, and causing 2, 500 casualties.  Trapped inside without food or fuel for the fire, the Aptekar family huddled in their winter coats, and broke through ice in the water pail to drink.  With tears streaming down his cheeks, my great grandfather Jacob Aptekar chipped tiny pieces of sugar from the sugar cone to feed to his hungry children, promising them he would find food for them soon.  And promising himself he would take his family away from that hateful place forever.  Jacob’s hair turned white overnight, and my Grandma Rose’s little sister Clara died in her arms.

Victims of 1905 pogrom in Odessa

Over the next two generations, time, geography, estrangement, and self-imposed exile tugged at the threads of the Aptekar family tapestry.  More than a hundred years later, the descendants of Jacob’s children, Reuben, Rose, and David, gathered around one table for latkes, applesauce, and Hanukkah sushi.

Broken threads can be repaired and rewoven…


…and it is never too late for a happy ending.

All words c2012 Naomi Baltuck.

Embracing the ‘M’ Word

On our recent trip to Mexico, we had a Mayan guide, Murux.

I was worn out with the extreme heat and sun, after walking around Chichen Itza, a huge complex of Mayan ruins.

In between visits to Mayan ruins, Murux took us to Cenote Sagrado Azul.  A cenote is a sinkhole or cave providing access to the extensive system of underground and underwater caves beneath the Yucatan Peninsula.  Of the estimated 30, 000 cenotes, a few are open to the public for swimming.  Murux says the Mayans regarded them as sacred entrances to the Underworld.  I was a little skeptical when I saw this sign.


I mentioned once that I only swim in the warm waters off the Hawaiian Islands.  I don’t like being cold.  Nor do I like public showers, public pools, or making public appearances in my swimsuit.  But my husband Thom gave me a gentle nudge (with a sharp stick), and somehow I found myself suited up, reluctantly stepping into the open outdoor shower outside the entrance to Cenote Sagrado Azul.  Dripping wet, I walked past the security guard through the archway, and looked down from the rim into the cenote.  In that instant, I was transported from the oppressive heat of a dusty dry world into another world entirely.  With its hanging vines, watery echoes, and tiny streams dripping down stone walls into a jade pool, it was like a scene from a Tarzan or an Indiana Jones movie.

I descended slippery stone steps through a tunnel into the actual cave, along with a swarm of tourists who had just arrived by bus.

We all stepped into an underground chamber, open to the sky, with sunlight filtering down through the vines.

Stairs hugged the wall, leading up to a ledge where swimmers took turns making flying leaps into the water.  No fear of hitting the bottom—this was the entrance to the Underworld, and it was bottomless.

Thom marched into line and took the plunge.  I’d already embraced my familiar and comfortable role as photographer and journalist, and I clung to it like a life raft.  I did touch my toe to the water, and it was cold.  I didn’t want to leave my camera hanging unguarded on a post.  And there were all those velvety black catfish-like creatures swimming around in there…

Like a mahout with a stubborn elephant,Thom backed me down the first couple rungs of a small wooden ladder.  I was in up to my waist before I balked.  A woman, already in the water, said something in Spanish, and she started to peel my fingers away from the ladder.  I was shocked at this breach of personal space, and held on even tighter.  The woman laughed, and slapped at my hands.  It was clear that she wasn’t going to go away, and she wasn’t going to give up.  Some part of me really wanted to let go, and I knew I would probably regret it if I did not take that plunge.  I released my grip, and splashed backwards into the cool clear water.


The word ‘magic,’ is overused.  But the ‘M’ word is the only one I can think of to describe that moment, that magic, that Mexico, that me.  I surfaced, the woman smiled, and melted into the crowd, like an angel who had come down to earth, completed her mission, and moved on.   The tour bus must’ve recalled its passengers, because when I swam out to the center of the pool and looked back, I felt like the only person in a world where time did not exist.  It was like learning to breathe again.  It was a baptism.  It was letting go of the heat, the shyness, the fear.  It was a little like falling in love.

I am now a believer.  And not only in spirit guides.  I now know it’s possible to step through the entrance to the Underworld, and exist in that sacred place where kings and princesses bathe and are renewed.

All words and images c2013 Naomi Baltuck

 

Tiny Miracles

Forgive me, blogger, it has been a month since my last post.

My only excuse is that I was out in the world.  All the stories I’ve seen and heard and lived have been patiently but eagerly contained, just waiting to be told.

 

In Poland and Lithuania, where we were traveling, World War II still casts a long shadow over the land.  That is a long, hard, sad story.


But little stories are everywhere, and more often than not, you will find stories within stories.  In fact, they will find you.

In Vilnius, even the walls contained stories.  We started to notice things, like faded Hebrew lettering on an old wall…

…Or a Star of David scratched in stone seventy years ago.

We learned that our apartment was in the Vilnius Ghetto, where more than 42,000 Vilnius Jews were imprisoned before they were murdered.

Near our place was a statue in memory of Dr. Tsemakh Shabad, a Jewish doctor in Vilnius.  A lovely young Lithuanian named Yrita gave us the inside story.

 The good doctor was loved by all, especially the children, and not only because he believed most childhood illnesses could be cured with a warm glass of milk and a bit of chocolate.

When a mother brought her little girl to him, that was what he prescribed.  They had no money for chocolate, so for a week he had the little girl come by every morning to take her medicine– a glass of warm milk and some chocolate.  Sure enough, she soon felt better.

When the little girl’s kitten fell ill, she knew just what to do.

She took her kitten to the doctor and asked him to cure it.

The doctor told her that in this case, they would forego the chocolate, and stick with the warm milk.  I’m glad to tell you the kitten recovered as well.

Though Dr. Shabad died in 1935, the children of Vilnius still visit him.  When they do, they rub the kitten’s nose and make a wish, certain it will come true.

 

 Yrita told us that for little wishes, you rub the kitten’s nose.  For very big wishes, you might need to rub the doctor’s nose.

 Sometimes wishes don’t come true, not even the little ones, and not all stories have a happy ending.

Sometimes the best we can do is to search for a little light in the darkness.  Sometimes you will find it in the most unexpected places.

Tiny miracles can be found everywhere– even in a bit of chocolate, especially when served with a cup of kindness.

 – Naomi Baltuck (Writing Between the Lines: Life from the Writer’s POV)

© 2014, words and images, Naomi Baltuck, All rights reserved

One More Time

Sharon Creeden has been my good friend for thirty years.

She was a King County prosecutor, a right-brained person in a left-brained world.  I would describe her as a person with one toe deeply rooted in the earth, and an ear bent toward Heaven.  No wonder she left law, and went on to become an acclaimed storyteller and author.  Fair is Fair: World Folktales of Justice was awarded the American Folklore Society’s Aesop Prize, as well as a Storytelling World Award.

 

Her brilliant anthology, In Full Bloom: Tales of Women in Their Prime (foreword by Naomi Baltuck!is well known in the storytelling world.

 

But at heart she has always been a poet, and a visual artist.

Sometimes both at once. Her work, Generations, is a collage featuring a vintage photo of four generations of the women in her family.  Having grown up in Kansas, Sharon chose to include the quilt pattern called “Kansas Troubles.”

On the back of this piece–and at the heart of it– you will find her poetry.

Writers, poets and artists, teachers, mothers and grandmothers…hell, everyone occasionally needs a boost.

I am fortunate to know creative people with whom I can retreat and reenergize.

To share ideas…

To feed our spirits…

To get the creative juices flowing.

To create a quiet space to write….

…and write…

…and write.

Whatever it takes!

Last week I felt overwhelmed by the enormity of the next writing project I have committed myself to.  Sharon said, “Before dawn this morning, I was stewing about my resistance to starting a new painting and was reading Art and Fear: Observations on the Perils (and Rewards) of ARTMAKING. And this poem came:

I am more than the sum of dried paint tubes and stacks of attempts and tries.
I am the breath of color on canvas,
I am the vision of something never before.
I am the incessant urge of “one more time”.

Sharon transported me from that space of uncertainty.  I felt cradled and spooned by the good women in my life.  I felt bound not by blood and bone, but by our passion for language, story, and the incessant urge of “one more time.”

I know I can and will do whatever it takes.

One. More. Time.

– Naomi Baltuck  (Wirting Between the Lines, Life From  a Writer’s POV)

© 2013 , words and photographs, Naomi Baltuck